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Helping to Grow Your Child’s Vocabulary


‘Oral vocabulary’ refers to the range of words which your child can understand when they hear them and can use when they are talking.

In this industry and as Speech Therapists in Nottingham we’ve seen that research shows that your child’s vocabulary is very important. It is directly linked to their later school success, impacting on their reading, maths and behaviour skills. Furthermore, without understanding and using a range of different words, your child’s thinking skills and knowledge about the world are restricted.


So what can you do to help Develop Your Child’s Vocabulary?

You need to think both about what you are saying to your child and how you are saying it.


WHAT to Say

Research shows that in typical development:

  • Children aged 12-24 months need exposure to lots of words ie. they need quantity.
  • Children aged 24-36 months need to hear a variety of ‘sophisticated’ words ie. they now know lots of common words so want to learn more difficult words e.g. “exhausted” instead of ‘tired’, “sprinting” instead of ‘running.
  • Children aged 36-48 months need to hear about past and future events and explanations ie. “Oh we can’t put them in the bus because the bus is full of bricks” “Oh yes, we had popcorn at the cinema. Do you remember?”


HOW to Say It

With our multitude of experience from being speech therapists in Nottingham, we have found that there are a range of different strategies to show you how to introduce new words to your child and develop their vocabulary skills at home:


Talk about Things in the Here and Now 

Your child is more likely to engage with you and learn if they are interested. So provide commentary about what you and your child are doing e.g. “We’re drinking hot chocolate” “I’m eating pasta and sauce” “We’re walking to the shops”.


Think about changing the words and phrases you use depending on your child’s age/level of development e.g.

“We’re sipping hot chocolate” “We’re strolling to the supermarket”.

“We need to have a hot chocolate because it’s cold outside” “Do you remember when we went to the supermarket and saw Tom?”


Link new words with words that your child already knows e.g. “There’s a jet. A jet is a very fast aeroplane.”


Be face-to-face with your child when talking to them, this is something that seach therapists have found extremely useful, as this will help them to look at you and focus on what you are saying.

Spend time playing ‘pretend play’ with your child e.g. pretend that you are going on a picnic, pretend you are at the doctors, pretend that you are at school. Take on the role of your character (e.g. doctor) and say phrases and words that a doctor would use ie. “How hot do you feel? Let me take your temperature”. “Open your mouth wide…say ‘ahhh’” “Let me put a bandage on your poorly leg” this is also something that search therapists will do along other assessments.


Be visual when talking to your child ie.

  • Hold or point to the object you are talking about e.g. “Look at all the dark clouds (point) in the sky”
  • Gesture the action you are saying e.g. “We have got to drive to the shops”.

This will help to grab your child’s attention so that they are concentrating on what you are saying and it will help them to understand the new words.


Repeat, repeat, repeat. Give your child lots of opportunities to hear the new words. Children need to hear a word said a number of times before they start to use it correctly in their own speech.


If you have any concerns about your child’s vocabulary skills or need advice on speech therapy in Nottingham, please feel free to contact the speech therapists at Speech Right’s Nottingham base on 0115 882 0117 or info@speechright.co.uk

Children talking at a table

The Importance of ‘babbling’ in Language Development

‘Babbling’ is when your child is playing around making different speech sounds e.g. “baba”. The utterances are not yet recognisable words and your child is not intentionally trying to send you a message but, instead, they are having fun producing different sequences of sounds.

Some recent research completed by McGillion et al (2017) highlights the importance of babbling in predicting when a child will produce their first words.

In the study, 46 English-speaking children, were chosen. Their babble and pointing skills were assessed whilst they were 9-18 months old. They were regularly recorded during free-play at their homes and parents/carers also kept a diary recording any new communicative behaviours that their children displayed.

The results showed:

  • Children typically started babbling 3 months before they started pointing.
  • Most of the children typically started babbling at 10 months of age.  By 15 months of age, all the children were babbling and, by 18 months of age, all the children were pointing.
  • The start of babbling did predict when a child would use first words
  • The start of pointing predicted the range of words which the child would understand at 18 months.

How does Babbling Encourage a Child’s First Words?

It’s suggested that, because parents/carers respond to their child’s babble, this:

  • Makes it obvious to the child what communication is about: it is a two-way process with one person speaking, the other person listening and then responding.
  • Encourages the child to continue to practice making sounds
  • Helps the child to realise the role of first words

How does Pointing Predicts a Child’s Understanding of Words?

  • Pointing requires a child to have developed ‘joint attention’ (the ability to share attention with somebody else). ‘Joint attention’ is a key skill for successful communication so pointing gives a child lots of practice with this skill.
  • Carers respond to their child’s pointing by commenting and labelling what they are pointing to. This helps to build their child’s understanding levels.

What Can You Do to Develop Their Childrens’ Babbling and Pointing Skills

  • Give your child the opportunity to babble/point – pause and wait before you begin to speak to see if your child will babble or point. Sometimes, we can be so keen to talk to our child and give them lots of language models to hear that we do not give them time to communicate with us.
  • Imitate your child’s babble – copy the sounds that they are making. This will make your child feel powerful as they know you are attending to them and it may also encourage them to continue to babble. This will then set up a good two-way interaction with both you and your child taking turns.
  • Respond to your child’s pointing – if your child points to something (with or without vocalising), follow their point and comment/label it using one or 2 words e.g. “Car” “banana” “mummy’s shoes”

If you have any concerns about your child’s sound-making/babbling/pointing skills, please feel free to contact Speech Right to speak to one of our speech and language therapists here in Nottingham, who will be happy to provide advice.


Reference: McGillion, M., Herbert, J.S., Pine, J., Vihman, M., dePaolis, R., Keren-Portnoy, T., & Matthews, D. (2017). What Paves the Way to Conventional Language? The Predictive Value of Babble, Pointing, and Socioeconomic Status. Child Development, 88(1), 156-166.

Introducing Makaton

As speech therapists in Nottingham, we are often introducing Makaton to families to support their children’s’ communication skills.

What is Makaton?

Makaton was devised by 3 speech and language therapists. It is a language programme that uses signs and symbols to help people communicate. The signs are based on signs from British Sign Language (the official sign language for people who are deaf or who have a hearing impairment) and the symbols are simple, black and white line drawings.

The CBBC ‘Something Special’ programme uses Makaton.

Who Uses It?

As a speech therapist, I have used Makaton with a range of different communication problems. By signing and symbolising the environment, adults are:

  • Encouraging children to attend to what they are saying (the child is hearing AND SEEING something)
  • Helping the children to understand by adding a visual clue to support their spoken words.
  • >Giving children confidence to support their own speech with gestures/signs as the children are surrounded by adults who are doing the same.

Speech Right has used Makaton successfully in therapy with:

  • Children who are delayed in using spoken language
  • Children who have difficulties understanding English
  • Children who are struggling to produce clear speech
  • Children with attention and listening problems
  • Children who have social communication difficulties
  • Children who have English as a second language

Can Makaton Be Used AT Home?

Yes, even if your child does not have any speech and language difficulties. Speech Right actively encourage families to use Makaton as research has shown that using signs and symbols actively encourages the development of speech and language skills (www.makaton.org.uk).

To start:

  • pick some key words which you use daily with your child and begin to sign the word everytime you say it.
  • Watch Justin and Mr.Tumble on ‘Something Special’ together with your child.

For further information about Makaton, please feel free to contact Speech Right and the speech therapists here in Nottingham will be happy to help.

Ways to Help Childrens’ Speech and Language Skills

Top Tips to Support Childrens’ Speech and Language Skills

Ensure that your child is looking and listening to what you are saying. If needed, wait for them to finish their activity and look up towards you before you begin to speak.

Use gestures and actions alongside your speech to keep your child’s attention and help them to understand what you are saying.

Talk about things that are happening in the ‘here and now’. Comment on what your child is doing so that your child can match the words to the objects e.g. “Jack is sitting on the chair. Jack is putting his shoes on. Jack has got his coat.”

Repeat back and add a word on to what your child says to help them put more words together e.g.
Tess = “there’s a car”
Adult = “yes, there’s a FAST car”

Give your child lots of opportunities to hear clear models of speech to support them to develop clear words e.g.
Ted = “wat the tar”
Adult = “yes,WASH the CAR”

Give your child lots of time to think about and say their spoken utterances. Try not to make your child feel rushed to get their words out or they will put extra pressure on their language system which might overload it.

The Links Between Speech and Language Difficulties and Literacy Problems at School.

There is evidence which highlights that children who have difficulties with their speech and language skills will struggle with literacy at school. This document from ICan (www.ican.org.uk) explains some of the problems that children who struggle with their speech and language skills can experience: http://www.ican.org.uk/download%20files/ReadOnGetOn%20I%20CAN%20SLCN%20and%20literacy.pdf