Toddler Talk - Tips to Encourage Speech Development in Toddlers

Toddler Talk with Bonny Marsh, Speech Pathologist

As our little ones begin to find their voice, Little Archer & Co. spoke with Speech Pathologist and Director of Let's Get Talking, Bonny Marsh, to provide families with great insight and what as parents and carers we can be doing to help our toddlers. 

From the moment your baby is born. They are learning how to communicate.

Hearing actually develops when they are in utero – which is why they settle easily to your voice when they are born. They have been listening to you for weeks.

Communication is so much more than words – it is eye gaze, turn taking, connection. First, we learn to talk, and then we talk to learn. So, waiting until school starts – really all the hard work is done by then. The foundations are already laid. Our oral language is the first step to our written word.

We know that children who start school with robust vocabularies are set up for success – it certainly provides a protective measure to them.

Our babies are understanding language, before they start to use words. Most parents will share that they heard first words around the first birthday, but by 18 months most toddlers have some single words. Then by 2 years, they are likely to start combining words into small sentences. By 3 they will be saying loads, but you may not understand it all. By 4 they are typically understood by most people and can hold their own in a conversation. For more detailed information of how language develops and key milestones head here.

Personalities impact how easy or tricky little people are to communicate with.

We all know adults who are super easy to strike up conversations with and some where it is harder. Kids are the same. We play many roles as parents, and it is important that we understand what motivates our toddlers and what they are curious about. The best way to build language is to follow their interest and add words to the things they naturally gravitate too.

Some toddlers just won’t be so keen to strike up a conversation. I like to think about language development and supporting language development through my CALM framework – Connection (can you be face to face, are they hearing you, are you feeling ok); Activity (do you both enjoy it, is it age appropriate), Language (are your expectations appropriate) and Motivation (do you both have it).

Some toddlers are not keen to talk, but here is where I dig into understanding how much is personality, how much is drive and motivation and how much is skill. Is there something getting in the way of talking? There are many reasons why learning to talk can be tricky for some. There are lots of urban myths as well – please if you are concerned speak to your local speech pathologist or GP.

Some times our kids have a lot to say but get very frustrated when we do not understand what they are saying. This is normal. Normalise it for them. Take ownership of the communication breakdown where you can – “sorry mummy was not listening”, “sorry daddy did not hear you”. Don’t make a big deal about it. Ask them to show you if they can. Use gestures if you can. Help them use gestures if they can. Does the communication breakdown at similar times and in similar activities – perhaps get a few photos to have on hand for those times. Does communication breakdown when they are sharing information with you such as what happened at day-care – can you get on the front foot for that and ask the carer what may have happened that they are likely to want to share with you.  But know it is normal for toddlers to not always be easily understood at all times.

Many of my clients have shared that one of the most powerful things they have changed is to OWL – Observe, Wait and Listen with their kids. Observe what they are interested in, wait for them to say something allowing the child to initiate the conversation and listen – really tune in. And add the word for your toddler.

Often parents share that when they start to listen their toddlers are actually saying a lot more than they realise. To me, if a sound, gesture or word has intention then it is a word. It counts.

The most powerful times to build language are in the everyday routines – bathing, dressing, getting in and out of the car or pram, meal times, book, swings, sand pits, songs and music. Building language into everyday repeatable activities allows language to be heard many, many times and repetition is critical.

I have developed the Toddler Talk Kit to share with families’ key strategies and tools that speech pathologists share which build language in the small, connected moments. Watching your child learn to talk is one of the most amazing things. It starts the very second you clap eyes on each other.


There is no reason to feel concerned about your toddlers talking. Asking for helping and seeking information is really natural. As a mum of four -who are now all teenagers – there are still things I am looking for help and support with to understand how best to support and show up for my kids. It makes us human.