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Children's Health

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Speech and Language Development - Building Skills at Home

Talking and reading to your baby and, later, encouraging conversation are vital contributions to your child's speech and language development. The size of a 2-year-old's vocabulary is directly related to how much parents and other caregivers have spoken to that child from infancy.

Newborn babies are programmed to learn, and most parents are naturally excellent language teachers. The kinds of interactions and conversations parents normally engage in with their children, from "baby talk" to repeating words, happen to be perfect language lessons. Talking, reading, listening, and responding to babies and young children usually are all that is needed to help them learn to talk.

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Teaching sign language to babies 6 months or older could also help them in several ways. Signing gives babies a way to express their wants and needs when they can't talk. And it gives you another way to bond with your child. Using sign language has not been shown to get in the way of language development.3

Start reading to your child before he or she is 6 months old. And continue to read to your child each day. Reading to your young child is an especially important learning activity for several reasons. While reading, you and your child share a comforting closeness. You also both focus on the same picture and the same concept. Your child can ask you questions, and you can reinforce his or her observations. Reading provides opportunities for children to learn new words that they would not normally come across in everyday conversation. Reading frequently to your child may help with his or her speech development, later reading abilities, and school performance.

If you have concerns about your own reading skills, seek out an adult reading program at your local library or public school system. You can also see America's Literacy Directory online to find reading programs in your area. The website address is

To encourage and support your child's speech and language development:

  • Nurture your baby's speech and language development. Talk, read, sing, and play with your baby. Interaction and a loving environment will help engage your child's curiosity, build confidence, and foster a familiarity with language. These traits provide a strong foundation for speech and language development.
  • Nurture your child's speech and language development, ages 1 to 2. Involve your child in conversations, and talk about the names of favorite toys and other common objects around the house. Speak slowly and clearly, and praise your child's attempts to speak. To help your child's brain develop, play or read together instead of letting your child watch TV, watch movies, or play games on a screen. When you play or read with your child, leave the TV off. Even a show playing in the background matters. It keeps your child-and you-from focusing on and learning the most from the activity you are sharing.4
  • Nurture your child's speech and language development, ages 2 to 4. When feasible, gently encourage your child to talk to others, including other children near the same age. Correct your child's speech in positive ways by rephrasing, repeating, and relabeling. Read to your child every day and set limits on TV viewing. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents to limit TV time to 2 hours a day or less.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: September 09, 2014
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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