Talking together is the key to language learning.

Teaching a Toddler How to Speak English

by Jennifer Zimmerman

Teaching a toddler to speak English, or any other language, is a lot like teaching him to walk. You don't spend time each day showing your kiddo how to lift his feet up and down -- you provide him with a safe environment so that he can figure it out on his own. With speaking, you don't spend time each day holding up language flash cards, you provide him with a language-rich environment and let him develop at his own pace. Toddler brains are primed to learn language; according to some studies, they go from knowing 50 words at eighteen months to knowing between 100 and 200 words at 2 years of age. All you need to do is make sure that you speak to them in English regularly and let their amazing brains do the rest.

1. Narrate the Day

Even if English is brand new for your toddler, it's not like she's going to be that surprised by new words coming out of your mouth. Everything is still pretty new to her, after all. If you've been speaking another language to her and are now switching, try using both languages for a while, such as, "Look at the red ball! Mira la perota roja!" If that's not an option, just keep explaining the world around her in English. You may feel a little silly stating, "Here's the car, let's get in the car," and similar comments all day long, but it will help your toddler learn English more quickly.

2. Read A Lot

Reading out loud to your toddler is important, no matter what language you're trying to teach him. Choosing books with simple English vocabulary and vivid pictures will help your toddler develop the basics of English vocabulary, sentence structure and grammar. Authors like Tana Hoban, Donald Crews, Eric Carle, Mo Willems, Karen Katz and David Shannon will appeal to your toddler and can be found at your local library. Not only can you read the text, you can discuss the pictures in the book. Point to a picture and ask your toddler what it is -- or you can tell him what it is -- depending on his comfort level with spoken English.

3. Create Books Together

Construction paper, pictures, scissors, glue sticks and crayons can be surprisingly helpful for teaching toddlers to speak English. You and your toddler can create pages by gluing pictures on to construction paper and then having you write the appropriate word or words across the top. One way to try this to cut pictures out of magazines with a theme in mind, such as "food." After gluing the food pictures onto the construction paper, write "food" on the top. After collecting a few pages like this, you can staple them together to make a book of English words for your toddler. If your toddler loves pictures of people she knows, you can print photos of family and friends and glue them to the construction paper. Then you can write each person's name or a description of what they're doing to make the text. A third way to create a book is to take pictures of your child doing different activities or in different places and write the descriptions on the back. Then punch a hole in each photo and attach it to a ring. Pretty soon your toddler will be "reading" these familiar books and practicing her English on her own.

4. Extend the Conversation

When your little one does start speaking English, you don't get to relax. Instead, you need to extend the conversation. For example, if your toddler points to the cat and says, "Cat!" don't just nod and smile. Add to her idea by replying, "Yes! There's the black cat! He's going to rub his fur all over the white blanket because I just washed it!" Or you could try something less bitter, depending on how tired you are. Another way to extend your child's spoken English is to ask questions that can't be answered with a simple yes or no. Ask your toddler, "Do you want cereal or crackers for a snack?" and let her know you appreciate her answer, "Thanks for telling mommy what you wanted to eat for snack."

About the Author

Jennifer Zimmerman is a former preschool and elementary teacher who has been writing professionally since 2007. She has written numerous articles for The Bump, Band Back Together, Prefab and other websites, and has edited scripts and reports for DWJ Television and Inversion Productions. She is a graduate of Boston University and Lewis and Clark College.

Photo Credits

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