12 - 48 Months

Get your baby talking with The Speech Sisters

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“Parents have so much of an impact on their child’s language development. The more that a parent talks to their baby in the beginning — in the early, early days — the greater their vocabulary skills when they get older.”

Speech & language experts @SpeechSisters

Language milestones are a hot topic. When should my baby be speaking? And how many words? So much is tied up in our ability to communicate with our little people. On today’s episode of My New Life, we call in the experts to get your baby talking! 

While the timeline for those treasured first words varies from child to child, there are some time-tested tricks to help the process along. Spoiler: Don’t be afraid to sing to your child. Jessica Rolph, your host, is accompanied by speech language experts Bridget Hillsberg and Brooke Dwyer, aka the Speech Sisters.

Key Takeaways:

[1:54] How much is nature vs nurture when it comes to a child developing language?

[3:13] Bridget and Brooke talk about their babies’ language development.

[4:47] The Speech Sisters’ number one tip for parents: imitate.

[6:05] What’s the difference between baby talk and imitating? 

[8:01] Another tip for parents: Act it out.

[9:25] Listening, labeling, and demonstrating play an important role in encouraging language development.

[12:37] What constitutes saying the first word versus babbling? If you know what they mean when they say it, does that count as a word? 

[13:23] How much should a child be talking? What’s typical? And when should we worry?

[16:04] Bridget and Brooke share stories about children who received early intervention to assist in their language development.

[18:25] Can a child learn language through screens?

[21:17] How much of a child’s language development stems from parent intervention versus screens or some other outside service?

[23:15] Parents have a tremendous impact on their children’s language acquisition. 

Mentioned in this episode:

Speech Sisters on Instagram

Find more about Bridget and Brooke on SpeechSisters.com


Jessica: Welcome, Bridget and Brooke.

Brooke: Hi. Yeah, thank you so much for having us.

Bridget: We’re so excited to be here today.

Parents role in language and speech development

Jessica: So I’m going to get right into it. I’ve heard that the more child is spoken to, the faster those early brain connections are formed.

I don’t think the parents realize how much impact they can have on their child’s language development, so how much of it… Let’s really break this down. How much is nature versus nurture?

Brooke: There are hundreds of thousands of studies out there to support the fact that parents have so much of an impact on their child’s language development, the more that a parent talks to their baby in the beginning, in the early, early days, the greater their vocabulary skills when they get older.

Bridget: Even reading to your child early on can make such a difference with how your child processes language once they get into school, and really, there’s just so many things that prove that supporting your child early on can make such a huge difference. I will say though, every child is different, so it’s hard to say whether or not a child will just excel because their parents speaks to them, obviously there’s a lot that comes into play with that, but no matter where your child is on their communication journey, speaking to your child and communicating with your child with the intent of building their language, will set them up for success wherever they are meant to be in their developmental path.

Jessica: That’s so reassuring. Okay, I have to ask, you are the language pros, so what about your babies, did they start talking early? 

Brooke: Yeah, very early. Yeah.

Bridget: Yeah. All five of them. And I think that’s why really, we created our infant course because we just kept getting asked like, How are your children speaking so early? It’s just gotta be because you’re speech pathologists and you must sit down and do speech therapy with them all day.

Brooke: Right. And we were like, No, no, we just talk to them. But I can even think of some of my friends who would say, Gosh, the way you talk to your daughter, like the way you’re talking to Riley, How do you know to say those things? And I said, Well, obviously, because I’m a speech therapist, but it is not that difficult and really any parent can do that, they just need to know, they need to be educated. And they need to acknowledge that they have that power.

Bridget: Yeah, and it is more than just talking. There’s a lot of different things that come into play, just more than just talking to your child, and I think that a lot of parents have the knowledge to talk to their child in order to build language, but it’s how do you talk to them? What kind of voice do you use, what kind of tone, do you repeat words, How many times, should you say very long sentences, or should you keep them short and sweet? And that’s kind of what we educate parents on, because there is a specific way to speak to the child, your child, to improve their language development.

Importance of imitation

Jessica: You talk about tip number one in your course is, Imitate, can you flesh that out for us? 

Brooke: Yeah, imitating is so important, and it actually goes both ways, so before your child can imitate you, you need to start imitating your baby, okay? So when your baby makes a sound, you want to make that sound back at them, if your baby starts to babble, babble back, because then they will start to understand, oh, I might do it again. And then you’ll do it again, and this is really fun. And we have this back and forth. Imitation is key.

Bridget: That reciprocity really sets them up for success of what’s to come with having conversations later down the road. If you start imitating your baby early on with those coos and those babbles, and the baby is going to immediately think, Oh my gosh, this is so cool, my mom is copying me, I want to do that again, and they like that, they want to see your reaction again, and like Brooke said, down the road, when you want your baby to imitate a word, if you’re saying Mama, then they might be a little bit more apt to understand that they then could repeat you or should repeat you too.


Jessica: I love it that you bring this up because I think sometimes we get confused and think that we shouldn’t speak baby talk, So what’s the difference between baby talk and imitating? 

Brooke: That’s a great question. So baby talk, well, it has some negative connotations, but as long as you are talking using the correct grammar and sentence structure and word structure, then it is actually great and we recommend it, another word for it is called Parentese or Motherese or infant-directed speech. It’s sort of a sing-songy exaggerated speaking style, and it grabs your baby’s attention and your baby loves it, and he or she will pick up information and language more quickly because you will have their attention, and there are tons of research studies on this.

Bridget: Yeah, I think that’s a huge reason why we have five early communicators with our own children, and I find that whenever Brooke and I are around a baby, a friend who has a baby, even now, the babies are like, Boom, I like this lady.

Brooke: Yeah, they are drawn to us.

Bridget: They’re drawn to us and we get a lot like why? What? Are you a baby whisperer? No, we’re just like Parentese masters and using that voice and saying, ‘Hi, I see your eyes’ and drawing out those words in that Parentese sing-songy speaking style, really grasps that baby’s attention and it makes such a difference and they love it.

Jessica: Yes. Research has proven that it makes a difference, and it’s so fascinating that what comes naturally to us, to some of us, can really make an impact on a child’s development.

Brooke: Yeah, and I think too, when you’re using that speaking style, you grab their attention, but they’re interested for a longer duration, so when you have their focus for a longer time, that’s just leading to more language learning opportunities, they don’t check out as quickly.

Use gestures

Jessica: And you also have a tip, act it out. I love this tip. Can you elaborate on this a little bit? 

Brooke: Sure, so it is really important to use gestures when you are communicating with your baby, gestures often usually come before words and you want your baby to see you gesturing and acting things out to add meaning to the words that you are teaching them. So for example, if you have a ball and it’s a big ball, you want to show them that it’s big, open up your hands and say, big, because that is adding more meaning to that word.

Bridget: And you can even make your voice big, it’s big. And you really act it out, and like Brooke said, that does add meaning and also showing objects as you talk about them, so if you’re talking about a banana, like get that banana in hand and hold it right there. It’s a banana, look, I’m peeling the banana, and you can act out actions as you’re actually doing them, and it just helps the words click much more quickly than if you are saying it out of context, it’s a little hard for them to connect the dots.

Look, listen and label

Jessica: Yeah, and then they’ll look, listen and label, which is very similar to what you’re saying, so you see this object, you’re acting it out, you’re also labelling things and looking at things and demonstrating for them where your eyes are going and then saying the word. Do I have that right? 

Brooke: Yep, exactly. All of those things are so important. So again, just really paying attention to what the baby or toddler is interested in and looking at, and you want to add language and talk about what it is. It’s also really important to, like Bridget said before, it’s the way that you’re talking to them, so when you’re using that Parentese voice, but also simplifying your language, so I think as parents, we hear like, Talk to your baby, talk to your baby, talk to your baby, it’s so important, and many parents go through and narrate their entire day, and that is wonderful, but if you’re talking a mile a minute and using really big words, it’s going to go over your baby’s head.

Bridget: Right, if you’re not showing the objects as you’re talking about them, your child’s just like, Oh my gosh, I just hear a bunch of words coming at me.

Brooke: And it’s great to expose them to that language, of course, we always say to talk and talk and narrate what you do, but at certain times when you can, you want to slow down and simplify and really stress and emphasize certain words.

Bridget: With my own, my youngest Stella who’s now… She’s just about to turn three, but when she was little, I would talk with her in a simplified way, using that Parentese voice, and every morning I would come down and get my coffee and we would go to the refrigerator and I would say, open, open the door, and then I would say, Here’s the milk, pour the milk, pour the milk and repeat it, and then I would touch the cup and I would say, Ooh hot, and I would say by eight-months-old, she was trying to go, ha hot like touching, pretending to touch the coffee and say hot with me, it just sticks. And it’s just that way, if you’re doing it in a slow and simplified manner, they really pick up on it, especially showing those objects as you walk through it.

What counts as a baby’s first word?

Jessica: I mean, they’re learning a new language. You know, when you think about it, we kind of think so much of language acquisition is innate, and they’ll just pick it up, but I love your approach because you really get into the mind of the baby and help them scaffold that learning. So I love all of these tips, they’re so helpful. What constitutes saying a first word versus babbling, so what about like bah ba for ball or bath, if you know what they mean when they say it, does that count as a word

Brooke: If your child is using… It doesn’t have to be perfect, so let’s say they’re saying ba, and they’re looking at a ball, as long as your child is using that word or a word approximation consistently, intentionally and independently, then yes, you can count it as a word, but if they’re just kind of saying, ba for everything, and there seems to be no meaning behind it then it seems to be more of a babble at that point.

Language and speech milestones

Jessica: And I think oftentimes, we get worried about these language milestones, so by one-ish, How much should a child be talking? What’s typical? And when should we worry? 

Brooke: So by one or 12 months, we like to see babies have at least one to two words, that would be the milestone, and again, the milestone, it is important for parents to realize is what 90% of babies or toddlers can do by a certain age, so it really is the majority of what children are doing at that age, so that’s why milestones are so important, different than averages, at one to two… I’m sorry, at 12 months, the average might be closer to three to five words, but for milestones, we really want to hear those first words emerge by 12 months.

Bridget: Yeah, and then that changes as the child reaches 18 months, that milestone, so again, indicating what most or the majority of children can do at that age group is around 10 words, but the average is sometimes a little closer to like 50, and then that gap gets even bigger as they reach 24-months-old, and the milestone being 50 words, but the average being even anywhere between 200 and 300 words, so that gap does get bigger, and I think the one thing that we have created and coined as Speech Sisters is that there isn’t an exact number, we call it the expected range because there truly is a range in which a child can be typically developing, and parents need not be concerned if their child is falling anywhere really in that range. Of course, if your child’s falling closer to a milestone or even a little below, we always encourage parents to still try to build their child’s language, there’s no harm in trying to expose your child to some of those strategies, but if your child is meeting those milestones, then you can have a little more peace of mind.

And if your child’s not meeting milestones, then we always urge parents to reach out to their child’s pediatrician as well as a certified speech language pathologist, just because early intervention is so crucial, and starting therapy or intervention early on, or at least parent education early on can just make such a huge difference, not only in immediately, but in the long-term as well.

Jessica: And you’ve seen so many children go through your services, you know, as one-to-one as speech pathologists and therapists, and then through testimonies for your courses, can you talk to me… Tell me a couple of these vivid stories about parents whose children got intervention and got services from you, and you saw a real change. 

Bridget: You know, it’s funny. It’s funny that you bring this up, because, I yesterday was dropping my son off at kindergarten and I bumped into one of my client’s mothers, who I have not seen in about two years. I was seeing her son right around the time COVID hit, I had been working with him for about a year. And he at the time was approaching three and he was non-verbal, and we were starting to explore using an AAC device, which is an augmentative communication device to help him get his needs and wants across. And then COVID hit and parents were kinda like, We might wait a little bit. But in the meantime, she continued to implement all of those strategies to help build his language at home, so everything we had done in therapy in the last year, everything that we discussed and encompassed in our Time to Talk course, all of that, and she continued to do it. And when I saw her yesterday, I pulled my car over and I was like, Oh my gosh, how is he doing? And she just burst out in tears.

And she’s like, “He is doing so well. He is speaking in sentences.” And I felt so fulfilled and so amazing and so proud, and it just shows parents… I think I immediately recorded a story just because I’m like, parents need to know this ‘cause it can be so scary when your child is not meeting communication milestones. But it’s so important that parents know that things do change over time. And it takes time, it does take time, it’s not something that happens overnight, but with dedication and effort things really, really, really can improve. And I think that parents just need to be empowered and not lose the faith in how much can really change within a year or a few years or even a handful of years.

Screen time and language development

Jessica: It’s so encouraging to hear. And I remember a friend, her children were a little bit delayed in language, and her children watched some programming, some kind of DVDs or something. Do screens help, can you learn language through screens

Brooke: This is a hot topic, and a debated topic. We feel that screens can be helpful, when used the right way. And I think that is…

Bridget: And at the right age.

Brooke: Yes.

Bridget: You don’t want to start screens too early. We always try to follow the recommendations by the AAP, the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Brooke: Which says to not really start much before age two. Eighteen months.

Bridget: With the exception of FaceTime actually, because they’re showing that FaceTime really actually can be beneficial to helping build a child’s socialization, or even language skills, if the communication partner on the other end of the phone or Zoom or whatever is speaking with the child with the intent of building their language. We actually just did a little workshop on this called Solving Screen Time Struggles, and just kind of debriefed parents on what the guidelines are. And I think that many parents get so confused, because the guidelines tell them to co-view. They’ll say, Co-view with your child. And we put a poll out there on our stories, and we’re like, Does anyone know what co-view means? And everyone’s like, No. [chuckle] Does anyone know how to co-view? No. So really, to co-view with your child means to sit there and help build understanding of what they are watching and observing on the screen, whether it be an app or a television show. And a parent really can help build a child’s language if the child’s at the appropriate age, and a parent is sitting there and kind of walking the child through what they’re seeing.

And there are a lot of ways that you can build language, and I did this with my own daughter. And we actually have a story highlight button. It might be labeled TV. And it’s me walking through maybe like a CoComelon or a Super Simple Songs with Stella on YouTube and showing parents how she literally starts talking because she’s so motivated by this, but I’m clearly co-viewing with her in an appropriate way.

Jessica: Yeah. I always felt like the co-viewing, it was like, might as well just read them a book. If I have to sit here with them, I’d rather be engaging with them directly than sitting together watching a program that is not so interesting to me.

Brooke: Exactly.

Bridget: But if it’s interesting…

Jessica: So I found those recommendations kind of tricky and maybe a little bit unrealistic at 18 months. So then, as a child gets older, how much of this should be parent intervention and parent changing behaviors and talking differently to their child and helping to scaffold their language, versus, again, these implements, like a screen or some other service that might help language development? Let’s say we’re talking about a toddler, over two.

Brooke: You know, it depends a lot on the child’s interest level. If a child is willing to sit with the parent and get the information and learn through their parent, that is by far the best. Face-to-face interactions will supersede any screen any day. If a child is highly motivated by, let’s just say a learning app, if the parent is able to sit there and do it with the child, then that can be helpful as well. But not as helpful…

Bridget: Yeah, definitely not as helpful as that real-life interaction. It just never will be. And I think, too, we always like to tell parents that a lot of language learning can happen during the things you’re already doing. You don’t have to sit down and be like, Okay, it’s speech therapy app time, you can build your child’s language while you are dressing them, which you do every single day, or while you are feeding them, which you do multiple times a day. That’s kind of where the meat and potatoes comes into building your child’s language, because it’s all the things that you’re already doing. So that’s where our mission comes in and kind of why we do what we do, ‘cause we’re busy moms and we’re like, people… Like we said earlier, “How did you get your little one speaking so early? You guys must do speech therapy all day.” And we’re like, [chuckle] “We’re running two companies. We do Speech Sisters, we have a private practice still. Five kids total. No, no, no, we’re not doing speech therapy with them. We’re just building their language as we move through life, quickly, like every mom does.”

Final insights

Jessica: So anything that we have missed that you want to share with listeners? 

Bridget: I think the takeaway is, we always say parents have the power to make such an amazing impact, and we just kinda want to scream that from the rooftops. Because I think so many times, running our private practice, we would go into a home and a child may be late to talk or not meeting milestones, and parents are, they’re worried, like we were talking about before, and it can be concerning and they have so much anxiety around it. And a speech therapist comes on board and we would walk in and it’s like, “Here you go, take my child. You got this.” And it’s like, “Oh, we’re going to do this together. We are going to do this together, because you are with your child the most.” And if you think about a pie chart, and you think about the time you spend with your child, or a parent or caregiver spends with the child, versus the time a child would be, let’s say in speech therapy, which is going to be a tiny little sliver of that pie. If a child is getting the language during all that time the parents with them, then they’re going to make so much more progress than if the language strategies are only being implemented, let’s say when a speech therapist is there. So parents have the power and we just want to empower parents and let them know that they can do it.

Jessica: That is so great. Well, it’s been wonderful having you two here. Thank you so much for your time and the service that you provide to families.

Brooke: Thank you for having us.

Bridget: Thank you.

Find the Speech Sisters on Instagram. For more tips on communicating with your baby and toddler, visit on Lovevery’s blog, Here with you.


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Posted in: 12 - 48 Months, 18 - 48 Months+, Speech Development, Language Development, Child Development, Parenting

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