How to Help Your Child Build A Strong Vocabulary

As parents, we eagerly watch out for our children’s milestones and celebrate with great enthusiasm. We wait to hear their baby talk, their first words and excitedly wait for those cute conversations. As parents, there’s quite a lot we do for our children. We take care of them, feed them, bathe them, dress them, play with them – the list is endless! Most of your baby’s or toddler’s early education is in fact through his interaction with you. In addition to all that we do, we can also help them build a strong vocabulary and essentially teach them how to form words and talk.


There are of course instances where children are delayed in speech. In this article, we have an interview with Mrs. Zuhra Hameed Wahab who is a Speech Language Pathologist and Audiologist. We hope that the answers to these questions will help you understand about a baby’s verbal communication development and help understand the norms in terms verbal communication milestones. We have also touched on signs of speech delay and the help available in Sri Lanka if you believe that your little one could be speech delayed.


At what age do babies usually start to talk? What kind of sounds do they initially make and at how many months is that?


By nature, babies begin to communicate from as early as 6 weeks of age. This communication is however mostly crying and cooing sounds where the baby is trying to express his pleasure or displeasure. These initial sounds gradually progress into a stream of sounds called babbling which eventually shapes itself into meaningful words and sentences. Thus most children generally speak their first meaningful word anywhere between 11-16 months.
A child’s initial verbal repertoire consists of mostly vowel sounds ‘aa’, ‘ee’, ‘oo’ and gradually easy consonants like ‘k’, ‘g’, ‘p’, ‘b’, ‘m’, ‘th’, ‘dh’ start emerging. This usually happens after about 4 months of age.


By 6 months, babies enter a stage called canonical babbling, where they start re-duplicating sound syllables (e.g ‘kakaka’, bobobo’) in an attempt to speak. As their vocal mechanism develops, they tend to start combining complicated series of sound syllables and this is called variegated babbling (e.g. ‘gageebadoo’).
This is most often seen after 8 months. This imitation of adult-like speech will eventually become their basis for word formation.


At what age should it be a problem if they do not start to speak?


Keeping in mind that speech development varies due to a number of environmental factors, if a child has not spoken his/her first meaningful word by 18 months of age (regardless of the pronunciation), then this may indicate a high possibility of the child having delayed speech and language.


By 24 months, the child’s vocabulary should have expanded to include more than 75 words and he/she should start combining words.

At 3 years the child should be speaking in simple sentences.


What are the possible warning signs of delayed speech and language?


There are a number of red flags to watch out for during the early developmental stages which may give you an indication of a likely speech and language delay. These include:


  • Poor eye contact and lack of interest in interaction.
  • Absence of babbling or delayed onset of babbling.
  • Not spoken his/her first word by 18 months.
  • Inability to combine words and has a vocabulary of less than 100 words by 2.5 years of age.
  • Not speaking as much as his/her peers.
  • Diagnosis of any other childhood disorder like autism, ADHD, hearing impairment, cerebral palsy, cleft of lip/ palate, genetic disorders like Down’s syndrome etc.


If a parent is worried that her child has a speech/language delay, what should her first course of action be?


Early identification and intervention for any development disorder can result in significant improvement as opposed to delayed treatment.


This is owing to the fact that 80 percent of brain neuronal growth in a child occurs before 3 years of age and 90 percent by 5 years.


Keeping this in mind any parent who suspects a delay in their child’s speech language development should not take a ‘wait and see’ approach but rather consult a speech language pathologist immediately for a detailed assessment. The assessment will help address the parent’s worry and if further therapy would be necessary.


What kind of help is available In Sri Lanka to assist speech delayed children?


A number of Speech Language Pathologists provide one on one therapy sessions both in private clinics and in hospitals. It is important that parents find a qualified speech therapist who works best for them and their child.
Group therapy sessions are another option, where children of similar language, age and disorder are grouped together. Some institutions even provide home-visiting speech therapists. A few regular schools and most special schools have their own speech therapist to work with such children.


As a parent, what are some things that you can do to help your child speak better?


Whether your child has a speech delay or not here are some useful tips to enhance your child’s language and vocabulary development:


  • Constantly speak to your child and include them in conversations.
  • Do not oversimplify your speech or use baby words.
  • Tempt your child to communicate whilst playing games and doing activities of interest.
  • Involve them in household activities by giving instructions, naming objects and describing and discussing your activities.
  • Ask lots of questions.
  • Expose them to new surroundings and people to learn new words. (e.g. supermarket)
  • Read to them frequently and make them describe pictures.
  • Engage in pretend play and role play (e.g. bus driver, teacher, shop owner etc)
  • Have family group activities. (e.g. ‘I spy’, puppet show etc)
  • Use television time and computer/I pad time in a controlled, interactive manner but limit the exposure.
  • Give lots of praise and reward for good language and new vocabulary.


General advice to parents who have children recently diagnosed with delayed speech and language?


Firstly you must ensure that your child is enrolled for speech therapy with a qualified speech pathologist for weekly sessions.

Secondly, whilst it is important to attend regular speech therapy sessions, you should not underestimate your role and ability in improving your child’s speech and language skills at home.

Because you will be the one person with whom your child will spend most of his/her time. Hence you must follow the goals and guidelines given by the speech therapist and ensure regular practice at home. However you should be realistic with your expectations as not all children develop the same way or at the same rate.

With your maximum effort and good guidance from a speech therapist you are bound to see immense improvement.
Remember that ‘practice may not make perfect but it does make permanent’.


For more details on Silverline Speech Therapy Centre or to contact her please visit


Note :
Every child develops at a different rate and this article wishes to be of general guidance to parents and not a substitute for professional medical advice. Please consult a professional if in doubt about your child’s individual development.

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