Expanding your toddler's vocabulary

Communication   |   Age: 1 year 5 months

Expanding your toddler's vocabulary

You were so happy when your baby spoke her first words, and you were even happier when she started to learn more. She isn’t prepping for her college exams yet, but knowing more words could help her out in school as early as kindergarten. More than that, though, the more your baby knows how to say, the more she will be able to say to you!

Your child’s vocabulary is going to expand rapidly in the coming months and years. According to the National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families, at about 12 months, your baby probably has one or two simple words under her belt, like mama or dada. By 18 months, her vocabulary will take off, usually to about 20 to 50 words. By age 2, she might be putting words together to make her first sentences, and she will know between 20 and 200 words. How can you give your baby a helping hand?

Talk to her

Obviously, you talk to your baby all the time, but for expanding her vocabulary, it can help to take some time every day to be really intentional about the words you’re using. Sometimes this just means talking at your child, but she will probably still process any new words she hears, especially if you avoid baby talk. Talk about your day, tell her stories, and describe what you’re doing while you’re doing it.

Ask open-ended questions 

Try to avoid questions that can be answered with just a “yes” or a “no” from your child. Instead of “Do you want spaghetti for dinner?” try “What do you think about having spaghetti for dinner?” If your baby seems curious about something, keep the conversation going and build on her interests. If she is playing with a ball, ask her why she likes it and what she can do with it.

Verbalize your observations 

This is just a fancy way of saying “point stuff out,” but do you see what we did there? New words for old thoughts! If you see anything interesting, talk to your baby about it. “Look at those dogs running together! What do you think they’re thinking?” Offer your own suggestions if your baby is stumped. “I think they’re happy because they’re on their way to meet a friend.”

Use many, several, varied words

As you’re describing things and talking to your baby, make sure you’re switching things up. Carrots are definitely yummy, but did you know they’re also orange and crunchy and round and chewy and cold and fun? Feel free to repeat words and define them as you’re talking: “Crunchy things make a sound when you eat them, like ‘crunch crunch.’”

Read a book! 

Children’s vocabulary in preschool correlates with reading comprehension in upper elementary school, so reading and vocab will be closely tied throughout your baby’s life. Look for books that ask questions and have interactive elements so that your baby can find and name things in the book. Ask questions while you read, and name the pictures in the books.

This is a learning process for you and your baby, so remember to be supportive as you learn together. Don’t correct her when she makes mistakes, just repeat the correct pronunciation, and translate for others if they can’t understand what she is saying. If your baby says “guck” for “truck,” say, “Yes, you do have a truck; I love that it’s red!” You two will be chatting it up in no time.


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