Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Strategies For Language Development: Using Imitation To Get Language

There's no question about it: toddlers love to imitate. One of the more powerful tools you have to encourage your toddler's language involves tapping into this strong desire to imitate by tying your words to your actions.

This strategy works best between the ages of ten months and two years of age, when your child is learning rapidly through direct and delayed imitation. As with almost every other idea for working on language with young children, the idea is both simple and powerful at the exact same time.  To use it, simply attach a word to an action that you do repeatedly. You might say "up" while reaching up, right before you pick her up, or "yay!" while clapping, or "pat pat" while patting down play-doh,"down" while knocking blocks down or "boom" when you fall on the floor after a round of  "Ring Around The Rosie".

Tying your word to an action gives your toddler more cues to get her to imitate you and more information to help her remember what to say. It's a strategy that is easy to work into almost any activity that you do, making it a perfect tool to use with an active toddler who has a short attention span (which, of course, describes all toddlers!).  Baby Girl and I were coloring with markers the other day (something that got a bit messier than I anticipated, as you can see by the state of her clothes in the video clip) and I started modeling some simple words along with simple actions. The thing to notice is that I didn't ask her to do anything. I just paired a simple action with a simple word and then waited for her to take her turn doing the same.  And she did. (But no, she doesn't always!).

One of the things I love best about working with toddlers is that learning takes place right inside of play--so much so, in fact, that you can't even separate the learning from the playing.  Helping your toddler learn language is less about changing what your toddler is doing and more about making little tweaks to what you are doing inside of those activities.  And most of all, it's about enjoying the process along the way.

Looking for more ideas for helping your infant or toddler develop language? 


  1. Great post...so true and so important!! I wish more people got this concept!

    I stumbled you...my post is: http://www.keenlykristin.com/2011/03/top-ten-baseball-movies-in-ten-daystil.html

    Kristin :)

  2. Stumbled back! Enjoyed reading!


  3. You have a really nice blog and I'm really glad I came by to read it.
    I'm a big believer that children learn best as they play so make their learning creative and enriching.
    Of Course you are stumbled.

  4. I really enjoyed reading this post!! I loved it when my children were in the learning process. They repeated everything we said and did!!
    I love your blog. My son had to have speach therapy. He had many ear infections and his language did not develop properly!!
    I would love to introduce you to my readers. Will you be interested in guest blogging?
    I stumbled back your post. Thanks for stumbling mine!!

  5. How much fun! They're so cute at this age.

    Happy stumble day. My post is http://booksyourkidswilllove.blogspot.com/2011/03/how-do-i-know-if-book-is-appropriate.html

  6. Another brilliant post!

    I stumbled you.
    Here's my post:

  7. http://stillblondeafteralltheseyears.com/2011/03/google-changes-its-algorithm-good-news-for-bloggers-with-great-original-content/ Stumbled yours, please stumble mine.

    I never realized there was so much to speech. I am enjoying your articles.

  8. Great post! Thanks for sharing. I am constantly using concepts like these and since my daughter was born I talked to her non-stop and was always tying together words with actions. Now she has really great speech and is talking in full sentences people are always making comments and I try to share these very simple concepts. I work as an occupational therapist and we too are all about play! :)

  9. Oh. My. Word. So happy that you commented on my post! I am loving your blog and all it's resources! :) Following ya!

  10. Nice post. I think this is why my 4 year old is such a good speaker, and my 2 year old doesn't really talk much yet. I was much better at this with my first than with her. I am trying to be better, though, and I think it is working!

    My blog

  11. Stumbled! If you haven't already, I hope you link up again this week.