In recent years, I think the push for 'get help early' has gained momentum in our profession, and is moving further away from some of the 'wait and see' approach.
My absolute go-to source for early language is the Hanen Centre. Here is a quote from their article (referenced below) about some guidelines to determine whether your child should see a Speech-Language Pathologist:
- 18 month olds should use least 20 words, including different types of words, such as nouns (“baby”, “cookie”), verbs (“eat”, “go”), prepositions (“up”, “down”), adjectives (“hot”, “sleepy”), and social words (“hi”, “bye”).
- 24 month olds should use at least 100 words and combine 2 words together. These word combinations should be generated by the child, and not be combinations that are “memorized chunks” of language, such as “thank you”, “bye bye”, “all gone”, or “What’s that?”. Examples of true word combinations would be “doggie gone”, “eat cookie”, or “dirty hands”.
The Hanen experts also share some thoughts about the stories you hear of kids that suddenly start talking when they turn 3 in complete sentences (usually it's someone's uncle, ha!). It's a good idea to see an SLP when you START to have concerns, partly because we can give some 'everyday' tips to help a young child's language develop, but also because we can help look for other red flags that may indicate reasons some kids don't speak until later. Many will develop age appropriate language on their own, but some won't, and getting help early can make a big difference.
In the meantime, what can you do?
First things first, you can't make someone communicate! You can try to force a child to copy what you say, but that doesn't mean they are communicating, and that isn't really what we're looking for in language development.
Second, quizzing a child with questions and asking 'what's that called?' is also unproductive in the longer term. I know it's tempting, as I think it gives us as parents a good feeling to feel like we are teaching our little ones something. They may answer your question, but that doesn't get at difficulties with spontaneous communication and telling you what they actually want to say. And more than likely, the questions are tough for the child and the child will fail in the interaction. No one learns well when they feel like a failure, even a child.
I always encourage parents to try to play with their child without asking any questions and see if they can do it. It's tough! :) But reducing the number of questions we ask really helps. Try commenting on the play by describing something or even saying 'this is fun' at first, just to build interaction between you and your child while playing. Use simple sentences, or even just single words...or maybe even just sound effects for starters (farm scenes help with this, or cars and trucks).
Don't be afraid to leave some quiet space in the play! Watch what your child is doing, and follow along. Children do learn language by imitating us spontaneously, so I try to leave a long pause after commenting on something, with a big smile and see if the child copies me. Repetition helps a lot. So for example, if we're playing with bubbles, I might say 'pop' or 'more' over 100 times, even though it feels a bit ridiculous at first! I have had great success with teaching simple signs at this early level too - such as 'more, help, puppy' or 'drink'.
There are many other ideas that can help, but maybe that's a few to get you started! This is one of my favourite areas of my profession, so it is fun to discuss! Feel free to send any questions along, or other topics of interest!