Strategies to Encourage Expressive Language Development

  • Give Your Child a Reason to Talk

Knowing your child well is a great thing, but anticipating your child’s every need gives them no reason to have to communicate.  Instead of automatically giving your child a drink, snack, or even a toy that’s out of reach, wait and give him/her a chance to attempt to ask for it.  Even reaching, grunting, and pointing is a great start if they are not able to produce words.  Model the words for him/her.  “Do you want a drink?” and even add the sign for “drink” if you’re working on using some basic sign language.  Reward these attempts at early communication, by granting the request when appropriate and redirecting when it is not. 


  •  Offer Choices/ Pretend to not Understand Request

When your child communicates that he/she wants something, the next step is to offer a choice of two items.  This encourages further communication and also allows the opportunity for further modeling the vocabulary and language of requesting.  You can even offer the wrong item.  If you know your child wants the car, offer him/her the ball.  This provides further opportunities for modeling and encouraging language. Be sure not to do this during every requesting attempt as this may cause frustration instead of communication.


  •  Control the Activity

Engage your child in activities that you control.  A perfect example is bubbles.  You hold the bubbles and the wand, but don’t blow until the child says “b”, “bubble”, “blow”, or makes some attempt to communicate.  That attempt could be a sign, a grunt, or a squeal. Initially, perfect speech is not the goal, the goal is to teach children the power of speech and communication.  When you do blow the bubbles, don’t forget to model the word “pop” every time you or your child pops a bubble! 


 Other activities can be controlled by providing a limited quantity and waiting for your child to ask for “more”.  Coloring, blocks, craft activities, and interactive games are all perfect opportunities for practicing “more”. 

 In both examples, the important thing is that your child makes an attempt to communicate before you (the parent, caregiver, or peer) initiate the action.

  •  Opportunities throughout the Day

Talk about what you are doing and what your child is doing at every possible opportunity.  When your child makes a sound, approximates a word, or says a word, repeat back what you heard or give meaning to what he/she said.   

Everyday activities or “chores” can even be language building opportunities.  Have your child help prepare something in the kitchen, or sort laundry.  Turn the steps into a song or simply narrate each step.  This will help your child learn action words like “open”, “put”, or “stir” and other basic concepts such as “in”, “out”, “on”, “off”, etc. 

  •  Expand on what your child is saying

Your child might make a “b” sound while playing with bubbles or blocks.  Repeat back “Blocks!  Look at the blocks.” or “Bubbles!  You want more bubbles? OK!”  If your child is a more advanced talker, but still working on some of the grammatical rules of speech, model the correct speech back to him/her.  If your child says “Me want that” when pointing to a favorite toy truck, you could repeat back “Oh, you want the red truck?  What a big truck!  Let’s get the truck and play together!”  Repetition like this will help your child learn language.

A toddler with an expressive language delay may already have a small vocabulary to pull from. Those words may include mama, dada, baby, etc. When the toddler uses one of those words, repeat it and add another word. Make new connections for them with a new word and the “old” word.

  • Use those “speech muscles”

If your child is able to blow bubbles, this is a great way to work the “speech muscles”.  Party horns, straws, or whistles can also be lots of fun! We like to use along with  

 Instead of a sippy cup, offer your child his/her drink in a small open cup or in a cup that requires a straw.  This encourages use of other muscles in the mouth that are important for speech.

 Make silly faces in the mirror with your child – stick out your tongue, move it from side to side, make it go up and down, puff up your cheeks with air, make “kiss” faces and “fish” faces, open wide, and smile!

  •  Encourage imitation of all kinds

Make animal sounds, car sounds, or train sounds and encourage your child to imitate these.  These sounds contain the basic vowel sounds that are a part of speech (“moooo”, “baaaa”).  Blowing raspberries, clicking your tongue, or “popping” your lips are fun to copy too!

  •  Read with your child

Read books to and with your child every day.  Let your child pick out the book he/she wants to read.  Even if you make up your own words or story to go with the pictures, or just point to pictures and talk about what you see. This is great language practice for your child!

Blog By: Rebekah Greer

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