Play time is a great time to practice English.

How to Teach Spoken English to Toddlers

by Jennifer Zimmerman

Toddlers are natural sponges when it comes to language; they are ready to learn whatever language you want to teach them. Thankfully, with younger children, you don't have to sit around with flashcards and a translation dictionary as you might with an older child. According to the American Speech-Language Hearing Association, toddlers, even those who have never heard a word of English before, will learn English as long as you speak and read to them regularly.

Teach English to Toddlers

Narrate the day in English. If your toddler is used to hearing another language from you, you may want to use both languages at first to help him make the connection. If you're not bilingual yourself, that's okay.

Label the environment in English. When you're not talking to your child about what you two are doing, talk to her about what you two are seeing. This is especially effective on walks, when you can name all the objects in your neighborhood.

Read in English. Toddler board books, with their simple texts and pictures, are an effective way for anyone to develop a strong English vocabulary. Start by reading books that highlight simple concepts like colors or household objects. Then move on to ones with simple stories.

Play together in English. Toddlers learn a lot through play; language is no exception. Pretending to talk on the phone or do another familiar activity, like making dinner in a play kitchen, is helpful for language practice.

Be prepared for the silent period. A toddler who has never heard English before may undergo a silent period where he doesn't say much in his original language or in English for up to several months. This is normal and you shouldn't try to force him to speak to you. Instead, keep talking to him as you have been doing.

Items you will need

  • Toddler board books
  • Stroll
  • Toy phone
  • Play kitchen


  • Videos and TV shows that are bilingual are fine for entertainment purposes, but they are not as effective in teaching English as reading or talking to your child.


  • If your child's silent period lasts more than a few months, or she is not reaching language milestones in either language, talk to your pediatrician.

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

  • Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images