top of page

Top 5 Tips for VERY Early Language Development (birth to around 18 months)

Updated: Aug 30, 2023


1) Add gestures, facial expressions, and sound effects to make new words more concrete

When children hear new words, they can be abstract and difficult to understand. Adding in gestures, facial expressions, and sound effects will make the meaning of these new words more concrete. Plus, children can imitate these gestures before they can imitate words and use these gestures to tell you what they want. Here are some example where you can add in gestures and facial expressions:

  • Pair "yes" with a smile and head nod. Pair "no" with a serious face, a head shake, and wag your finger. Be sure to match your tone to the situation as well. Saying "no" in a sing-song voice when your child is throwing toys on the ground will not teach him that "no" means stop/don't do that.

  • Pair "eat" with the gesture (see below) and add sound effects as if you are pretending to eat yourself! Afterwards, I like to rub your tummy and say "mm mm mmmm"

  • Pair "drink" with the gesture (see below--you can pretend to hold a cup) and add sound effects as if you are pretending to drink! I typically click my tongue on the roof of my mouth and then say a quiet "ahhh" at the end of the gesture. You can also add "gulp gulp gulp" as another way to make the word drink more concrete.

  • Pair "sleep" with the gesture (see below) and add sound effects such as snoring. I also like to preface this word with a big, audible yawn.

  • When something goes wrong or is unexpected, I like to say "oh no" or "uh oh" with my Home Alone face (hands on my cheeks).

Some example situations I use this with include:

-When a toy or item falls on the ground

-When a tower of blocks falls over

-When a car or ball gets stuck under the couch

-When the child can't complete an activity (e.g. can't match the puzzle pieces

or sort shapes correctly in a shape sorter)

2) Imitate vocalizations and babbling sounds your child produces

When your child is babbling, repeat the same babbling sequence back! When your child giggles, you giggle back! It shows your child that you hear them and that the sounds they are making is a form of communication. This also helps teach imitation skills and turn-taking. After a few turns of repeating your baby, I suggest you slightly change your speech sounds to see if you child will imitate the new sounds. For example, if your child says "mamama," you repeat back 'mamama." After you repeat this back and forth a few times, then change it to, "mememe" and see if your child will imitate the new sound sequence! With practice, and as the child grows, they will try to imitate your words!

3) Model functional/power words paired with baby signs

Little ones can learn and use signs as young as 9-12 months of age! Therefore, you can begin modeling them as early as 6 months. Below are 5 common baby signs that you can begin modeling in your home today! Please keep in mind that when your child imitates the sign, it might look different than what you are modeling, and that is ok! For example, sometimes children will use both hands to sign please; as long as the sign he uses is fairly consistent and used in an appropriate context, praise your child and honor his request!

I use this sign to request for recurrence of a preferred item or activity. I suggest you always pair this vague, yet functional, word with the item or activity your child is requesting to expose your child to the specific name of the item he wants.

"More bubbles"

"More juice"

"More music"

I use this sign to initiate a request for a preferred item or activity. Again, always pair this vague, yet functional, word with the item or activity your child is requesting, to expose your child to more specific vocabulary.

"Bubbles please"

"Crackers please"

"Book please"

This functional sign will help decrease frustration with your child. Use this sign when your child needs help putting on his shoes or jacket, when a toy gets stuck under the couch, and when your child needs help opening a snack item, such as a yogurt. For toddlers, before modeling this sign, wait for your child to request for help in his own way (e.g. taking your hand and guiding you to what they need help with). At that time, model this sign while saying the word, "help" and then help your child! Let your child try to solve the problem first before jumping to the rescue.

Model this sign while saying "all done" at the end of an activity such as when meal time is over, when cleaning up toys, and at the end of a book. This will teach your child to use this sign when they want to terminate an activity and will replace negative behaviors such as tantrums and/or throwing toys to show that he is all done.

This is a great gesture to support a child's ability to make comments. Point to your ear and say, "I hear + noun" when you hear a fire truck go by, a helicopter fly overhead, and when you hear music.

4) Look at and read books together

When looking at books with little ones, I typically do not read the sentences and story that is provided. Oftentimes, those sentences are too long and abstract for young kiddos and does not keep their attention. Instead, I point to different pictured items (nouns) and label them. If the characters are performing different actions (verbs) in the book, I will talk about them as well! This is also another great opportunity to add sound effects and gestures (as mentioned in #1). If there is a truck in the story, pretend to drive or honk the horn and see "beep beep." If there is a picture of a boy sliding, throw your hands in the air and say "weeee!"

In addition, give your child time to look at the pictures and let them turn the pages. If your child is pointing, label the items your child is pointing to. If your child closes the book to show that they are done looking at the book, move on to another activity and do not feel the need to finish the book. Book reading should be a fun activity and never forced on a child.

One last note: I encourage all the families I work with to steer away from asking questions such as, "what's this?," "what's that?," and "what is he doing?" Instead, label and make comments! You this activity to teach your child the vocabulary words and actions!

5) Narrate while playing and throughout daily routines

Talk! Talk! Talk! While your child is playing, talk about what he is doing. Describe his actions and label the toys he is playing with. Additionally, narrate as you go about your daily routines (cooking, cleaning, bath time, getting dressed, grocery shopping, etc.). Focus on using specific words (e.g. carrot, kitchen, towel, bathroom, pants, bedroom, shopping cart, car) instead of nonspecific words (e.g. this, that, those, there). Even if your child is not yet using words, he is listening and absorbing the information. Narrating activities while your child is doing them or while he is watching you will add meaning to the spoken words and helps your child learn!


Victoria Wascher, M.A., CCC-SLP

Owner & Speech-Language Pathologist

Chatterbox Speech Therapy, Inc.

Pictures of gestures:

Pictures of baby signs:

Laura Brown, M.A., CCC-SLP-- "The Practical Baby Sign Handbook"

27 views0 comments


bottom of page