By about 18 months old your toddler’s receptive language skills have grown to understanding anything from 200-500 words, with their understanding based on the simple phrases and words they hear a lot. So the more you talk, repeat, show, model and explain to your child the greater the opportunities they have for extending and developing their receptive language skills.
As your child’s receptive language (ability to hear and understand words) develops so will their ability to isolate key words in a sentence. For instance they will initially pick up on the word ‘biscuit’ when asked “Do you want a biscuit?” Word awareness allows them to focus on just the relevant information they are interested in.
Continue talking to your child as much as possible, but once they are about 10-12 months old reduce the use of ‘Parentese’ and instead use clearly pronounced, more simplified language patterns.
During this stage they are starting to respond to familiar requests such as “Come here!” ; understand simple questions “Where is Daddy?” ; follow simple instructions “Give the ball to Mummy!” and recognise and point to familiar objects when you ask them to.
For your child to reach these milestones in their speech, language and communication abilities they need to learn and develop their listening skills. Your child needs to learn how to pay attention - being able to focus on a particular sound/voice (filtering out other noises); they need to develop their stamina -concentrating on the sound/voice to take in the information; and they need to develop their comprehension - interpreting the sound/voice to extract meaning.
Although your child’s receptive language is developing well, their expressive language is far more limited, with them only being able to say around 20 words. The frustration of understanding but not being able to communicate leads to what is commonly known as ‘The Terrible Twos’. Sign language can be a very powerful tool to help you and your child to manage and lessen these communication frustrations.
Around the age of 2 years old many children use more than 50 single words and are beginning to put 2 or 3 words together to form short phrases and to ask simple questions “what that?” or “who that?”. They are beginning to recognise that sentences are made up of individual words and are able to pick out more than one key word in a simple sentence such as “Put your shoes and coat on!”.
Helping your child to build their vocabulary (word awareness) and the meaning of these words is vital if your child is to continue to develop good communication skills. Talking, explaining, sharing, playing are all important as well as making sure that you pronounce words clearly and correctly for your child to hear. Your child will not have developed all the skills needed yet, to copy you accurately, but they will store the sound pattern information for later use.
Playing sound detection games is a fun way of helping your child to build their sensitivity to sounds as well as helping them to develop their listening and attention abilities.
Toddlers continue to engage in sound play as they keep on building their sound knowledge and ability to distinguish between environmental sounds and those of language. They will play with words to make up rhymes and nonsense words as a way of learning how to generate new sounds, rather than for expressing their thoughts and understanding. It is a good gauge of your child’s sensitivity to sounds in words.