Speech and Language problems in Children /

How to Encourage Normal Speech Development

01 In Brief

Parents look forward to moment when their child starts talking. Nature and nurture both play a role in attaining optimal development of speech and language. There is plenty of information available about fun things you can do  to help encourage your child to reach this important milestone. Speech development occurs critically in the pre school years, talk and listen together as much as you can with your baby and toddler.


02 What Do I Need To Know?


Before 12 months

  • Cooing and babbling are early stages of a baby's speech development
  • By about 9 month she will start to string sounds together eg "Mama" and "Dada" without understanding the meaning.

12-15 months

  • Range of speech sounds in babbling e.g. p,b,m,d,o,r, n and start to imitate sounds and words from others. 
  • She will say one or more words other than Mama, Dada.
  • Nouns come first eg baby, ball
  • Understands simple one step commands e.g. "give me that toy"

18-24 months

  • Most say about 20 words by 18 months and 50 by age 2 years
  • By 2 years she will start to put words together eg "baby crying", "daddy big"
  • Can identify common objects in person and pictures 
  • Points to eyes, ears or nose etc when asked
  • Follows 2 step instructions eg "pick up toy" and "give it to me"

2-3 years

  • Many words > 50
  • Combining three or more words in a sentence
  • By 3 years understands more complex instructions e.g. "put toy under or on top of table" 
  • Begin to identify colours
  • Understand big and little 


Between 12 and 24 months, reasons for concern include a child who:

  • Isn't using gestures, such as pointing or waving bye-bye at 12 months
  • Prefers gestures over vocalizations to communicate at 18 months
  • Has trouble imitating sounds at 18 months
  • Has difficulty understanding simple verbal requests

Seek an evaluation if a child over 2 years old:

  • Can only imitate speech or actions and doesn't produce words or phrases spontaneously
  • Says only certain sounds or words repeatedly and can't use oral language to communicate more than her immediate needs
  • Can't follow simple directions
  • Has an unusual tone of voice (such as raspy or nasal sounding)
  • Is more difficult to understand than expected for her age. 
  • Rule of fourths: Parents and regular caregivers should understand about half of a child's speech at 2 years and about three quarters at 3 years. By 4 years old, a child should be mostly understood, even by people who don't know the child.


If there are concerns early referral to a speech pathologist is important. A HEARING TEST is an essential aseesment in any child with a speech delay.

The speech-language pathologist will assess:

  • What your child understands (called receptive language)
  • What your child can say (called expressive language)
  • If your child is attempting to communicate in other ways, such as pointing, head shaking, gesturing, etc.
  • Sound development and clarity of speech.
  • Your child's oral-motor status (how a child's mouth, tongue, palate, etc., work together for speech as well as eating and swallowing)


  • From the outset make faces and noises and talk about whats hapening around them: talk to her as though she is already a talker.
  • Talk to your baby and young child throughout the day, including during bath time, while changing nappies, and during meals. For example, get your child's attention, and then talk about what you're doing "Look, I'm opening the refrigerator and I'm getting out food". When she is older say ' there is a bus', then 'there is a red bus'.
  • When you speak with your child, talk at a level above her own. "If she's using three words at a time, you shouldn't use only three-word sentences, but at the same time, don't overwhelm her with very complex sentences."
  • Babies seem to pay more attention, and imitate more, when their parent talks in what's been called 'motherese' or singy-songy speech. Motherese refers to a simplified repetitve type of speech, with exaggerated intonation and rhythm used naturally by mothers and other care givers. Its different to baby talk. Keep things simple but don't use baby talk.
  • If your baby is trying to make a word but gets it wrong, say the word properly eg if she points to the cat and says 'Ca' say yes its a CAT. Don't criticise her for getting it wrong.
  • Read to her from a very young age. Start reading books as early as 6 months and use age appropriate soft or board picture books and books with textures that children can touch. Later let her point to objects in books and name them. Just talk about what you can see.
  • Sing nursery rhymes and songs especially those with actions eg pat a cake, row row your boat etc.
  • Background noise makes it harder for your child to listen so turn off the TV. 
  • Restrict the use of the dummy to sleep time. Its hard to learn speech with a dummy in the mouth.


Baby talk is immature speech that children use during the first 3 years. Children simplify adult language with the use of phonological processes. Parents should not imitate baby talk but set examples of normal speech.

Examples of babytalk 

gee-gee for horse, din- din for dinner, blankie for blanket, moo-moo for cow etc


03 What Others Say

  • American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

Activites to encourage Speech and Language development

  • Taliking Point: resources for parents, Tips for Talking fact sheets

Tips for talking: children aged 0-3 months

Tips for talking: children aged 3-6 months

Tips for talking: children aged 6-12 months

Tips for talking: children aged 12-18 months

Tips for talking: children aged 18-24 months

Tips for talking: children aged 2-3 years

Tips for talking: children aged 3-4 years


04 I Want To Know More

  • Mommy Speech Therapy: a fantastic website that has many helpful resources and links for parents. Here are some excellent pages.

Toys, books and games that promote language development 

Mommy Speech Therapy worksheets

LINKS to Informative Speech related Websites and Speech Related Products

  • Rollercoaster : Irish parenting site 

Toys- Developing communication skills

  • Irish Association of Speech and Language Therapists:useful fact sheets

How can I help my childs communication to develop?

TV and Children's Speech and Language development

Communication development in twins and multiple births


05 Clinicians Tools and Resources

  • Raising children's network

Language development: an amazing journey


The information published here has been reviewed by Flourish Paediatrics and represents the available published literature at the time of review.
The information is not intended to take the place of medical advice.
Please seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional.
Read our terms and conditions

Last updated: 08/01/2014