Is your 18-month-old toddler unable to use single words to communicate with you?

The inability to use single words by the age of 18 months can be the first sign of language delay in children. Before this age, most children learn to speak single words, refer to the correct person/object using the word, and are able to say the word consistently at different times and in different situations. The first words children speak usually serve to get the attention of a caregiver.

Ms Goh Siew Li, Head and Principal Speech Therapist, Speech Language Therapy Service at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), a member of the SingHealth group, says that while speech and language development varies from child to child, generally, by the age of 18 months, most children can request for an object by pointing and talking. She advises parents to consult an expert if their 18-month-old is not able to do this.

“A consultation with a doctor/paediatrician/speech-language therapist is strongly recommended if your child has not attained his first words by 18 months. A speech therapist can help to provide specific strategies to stimulate the child’s communication and language,” she emphasises.

8 tips to help your child learn to talk

You can help your child learn to talk by using the following strategies which can be used at any time of the day, and across a variety of daily activities:

  1. Use short phrases when talking to your child. You can repeat the use of new words and phrases to increase your child’s understanding and use of new vocabulary.
  2. Recite nursery rhymes and songs, especially those with actions.
  3. Point out different sounds (e.g. the doorbell, running water, the radio) and label them.
  4. Encourage your child to look at the object that you are talking about by holding it next to your face when you label it.
  5. If your child reaches for an object, pick it up and hand it to him/her while saying the word. Gradually, delay the time you take to respond and encourage your child to request for the object verbally.
  6. Give choices (e.g. “Do you want an orange or a banana?”).
  7. Talk about things as they happen (e.g. when you change your child, watch television, go to a shop).
  8. Praise your child for all attempts to communicate. You can say, “Good talking” and then give the item requested.

More speech and language milestones for children up to seven years old, on the next page.

Ref: N18