Learning to talk is exciting. It starts right after birth. It should be fun for your child, family, and friends. But it is not necessarily easy. The process of talking involves paying attention, listening, thinking, understanding, wanting and needing to speak. It also involves taking turns, as well as being able to coordinate all the right muscles, the lips, jaw and, tongue to move in the correct way in order to make words.

Children learn to talk at different ages. Generally, however, most children have their first word by 15 months. The purpose of verbal communication is to produce sounds and words to satisfy one’s needs. The first words of a child usually serve to call the people he needs (e.g., ‘mama’, ‘papa’)

Children need to be encouraged to talk in the same way as they are encouraged to walk. It is important to be responsive whenever children try to communicate and make it easy for them to start the conversation. Children go through the process to articulate speech sounds accurately. By 4 years of age, parents should be able to understand everything that their child says, although they may still have difficulties with a few speech sounds. Till the age of 4, children are still in the process of learning to articulate speech sounds accurately. And remember, children can understand what is being said long before they can use the words themselves.

12 tips to talking

The following are some ways in which you can help your child learn to talk. Be patient. The process is gradual and may seem slow. Words may be unclear and your child may stumble or hesitate.

  1. Use short phrases when talking to your child when you are playing together – toddlers often have a difficult time isolating a word from a long paragraph. Try to repeat single words and short phrases.
  2. Have fun with nursery rhymes and songs, especially those with actions.
  3. Encourage your child to listen to different sounds (e.g. animals, aeroplanes, the doorbell). 
  4. Gain your child’s attention when you talk to him. Get down to his level, face-to-face. Encourage him to look at you or at the object that you are talking about by holding the toy/object next to your face when you’re labelling it. 
  5. Encourage your child to communicate in other ways, not just through words. Use gestures and pictures. Similarly, respond to your child’s gestures. If your child reaches for an object, pick it up and hand it over to him while saying the word. Gradually, delay the time you take to respond to your child and encourage him to request for the object verbally.
  6. Give your child choices (e.g. ‘Do you want an orange or a banana?”).
  7. Talk about things as they happen (e.g. when changing him, watching television, unpacking the shopping).
  8. Listen carefully and give your child time to finish whatever he is saying. Take turns to speak.
  9. Give your child opportunities to talk. Praise your child for all his attempts to communicate. You can say, “Good talking.” And respond to his speech appropriately by giving him an item requested, responding to his question or comment, etc.
  10. Help your child to use more words by adding onto what he is saying. For example:
    1. Child: “Ball.”
    2. Adult: “Ball. Throw ball!”
  11. If your child says something incorrectly, say it back the correct way. However, do not force your child to repeat the word(s). For example:
    1. Child: “P…”
    2. Adult: “Yes, fish.”
  12. Dedicate a special time with your child each day to play with toys and read picture books together.


Listen to what your child has to say. Respond in a positive manner to your child when they attempt to communicate using gestures, sounds or words.

Every child develops at his own pace. Speak to your paediatrician if you are concerned regarding your child’s speech and language development. Referral to a speech therapist will be made if necessary.

Contributed by:
Speech Language Therapy Service, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital