Two and Three-Year-Olds: How to Help Them Talk

Speech in children usually appears around the first year of life. However, certain disorders can delay its onset. Fortunately, it's still possible to help 2- and 3-year-olds overcome them and speak.
Two and Three-Year-Olds: How to Help Them Talk

Last update: 18 July, 2023

A child learns to speak because they develop among adults, where communication through articulated language is elementary. But sometimes, the time that they start talking can be delayed. If your 2 or 3-year-old is having difficulty, you may be asking yourself how to help them talk. This is an issue that’s sure to interest any mother. But before we begin this post, we must first ask ourselves another question:

How is it possible that a child that’s 2 or 3 years old still doesn’t speak? Let’s answer this question little by little. First, we must start at the very beginning… When the baby was still a fetus in the womb.

The importance of talking to your baby before birth to help them talk

Despite its apparent disconnection from the world, a fetus is able to perceive and process stimuli that reach it from the outside, especially auditory stimuli.

When it was just a “seed” in the womb, your voice came to it quite distorted. A baby, after birth, can recognize, above all, the vowels of the mother tongue. Moreover, as we read in the article “Stimulating Communication in the Gestational Stage :

  • Fetusus can differentiate sounds and noises in the womb, as well as those of the outside world.
  • Fetuses pay attention and react to stimuli.
  • They assimilate that sounds have meanings and serve for communication.
  • They recognize the mother’s voice and that of other family members who stimulate them in a systematic way.

Indeed, talking to your baby before birth favors its auditory development; it increases the skills that, linguistically, it will have in its future development and reduces possible disorders in its verbal language. All this, according to a publication by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

A pregnant woman holding a telephone to her belly.

If you want to help them talk and advance in their auditory training, speak to your child, sing to them, and read them stories while they’re still in the womb.

Now, if your baby is already 2 or 3 years old and still doesn’t speak; you still have many alternatives to encourage their oral communication.

First, you just have to make sure that they don’t suffer from any physical or psychological disorder that slows down their language.

4 disorders that hinder language

Speech in children appears almost by instinct, as it takes place through the mere act of imitating those around them. Learning to speak takes time. In that regard, children:

  • Emit phonemes from 6 months of age.
  • Speak a few words between 9 months and one year of age.
  • Extend their vocabulary from the first year of life onward.
  • Construct complete sentences between 2 and 3 years of age.

After these stages have been overcome, it can be said that a child knows how to speak. However, there are infants who find it impossible to overcome phonological barriers and reach the age of 3 without being able to speak correctly. Their inability may be due to various disorders that hinder language, among which the following stand out:

1. Simple language delay

Children with a simple language delay don’t use or use only some of the phonemes used by other children their age. They have a certain delay in the use of phonemes and syntax with respect to their age group.

Fortunately, this disorder can be easily corrected and isn’t a symptom of any psychological or physical deficiency.

2. Hearing impairment

Children with deafness or other hearing impairment, because they don’t hear well, can’t learn to make sounds.

A simple way to tell if your child has this disorder is to make noise or call their name when they can’t see you. If your child doesn’t turn around to look at what’s happening or respond to you, it’s likely that they don’t hear well.

3. Autism

Autism is a developmental disorder that’s significantly evident in oral communication. Autistic children have marked language impairments and may find it almost impossible to make themselves understood.

4. Childhood stress

Children suffering from childhood stress may present language difficulties. This condition, whatever its origin, together with parental lack of affection and lack of attention and dedication, has a negative impact on lexical development.

Our advice for helping them talk

A 2 or 3-year-old child should at least speak fluently and have a vocabulary large enough to express their thoughts and feelings, ask for their needs to be met, and solve their problems. They should pronounce words in a similar way to those we use.

If your child still can’t express themself, consult their family doctor, a psychologist, a speech therapist, or a child neurologist. Seek specialized help.

How to help 2 and 3-year-olds speak?

A man sitting on the floor with a little girl who's playing with toys.

A child without a language disorder or any physical or psychological impediment as explained above, sooner or later, learns to speak. However, we adults can help them learn to talk more quickly.

How can we help 2 and 3-year-olds to speak? The answer to the question is simpler than it sounds: Through play.

Vocal games help children talk

Vocal games help babies gurgle. Because these activities involve sounds, they not only serve to stimulate unintelligible babbling but also linguistic development.

Through play, 2 and 3-year-olds develop both physical and mental skills. These exercises are designed both to stimulate learning and entertain little ones. Here are two of them.

1. The game of translating sounds

This exercise is quite simple. It only consists of imitating the same sound heard and naming the object, the animal, or the element in question.

For example: If a dog barks, we must imitate the bark of the dog and tell the child the word “dog”

2. The game of not knowing

In this game, the adult will pretend not to know what the child wants. If parents always anticipate their children’s answers, children won’t feel as much of a need to talk.

For example: When the child wants to drink water and only points to where you keep their cups or points or to the faucet, parents shouldn’t run to quench their thirst. The game of not knowing consists of asking them several times what they need. Then, you can give them a drink while repeating the word “water.”

Children’s songs: An excellent resource to help 2 to 3-year-old children speak

Children’s songs have simple lyrics, rhymes, and repetitions that facilitate understanding and memorization and are also accompanied by movement, gestures, and games that stimulate motor development.

They’re a wonderful playful activity in which several generations and the cultural heritage of the region that parents and children inhabit are crossed, affirming their identity and sense of belonging.

At a phonetic and phonological level, singing and dancing promote coherence and cohesion, elements that help to overcome errors or communication problems. Did you know that a child with dysphemia doesn’t stutter when singing?

This is what educator Mónica Pérez Bazoco investigates in her research on the influence of music therapy on children with language problems. She states that  If we make a child with dysphemia speak with rhythm (for example, to the beat of a drum) so that they pronounce one syllable for each beat, the dysphemia disappears.”

Other tips to help 2 and 3-year-olds talk

Games and songs aren’t the only way to stimulate language in older children. As parents, we must help them talk by following certain recommendations so they develop this skill that’s so necessary for life.

  • Use baby talk: This is nothing more than talking to babies in a high-pitched voice and slow voice, using diminutives. By using this technique, you’ll capture the little one’s attention and the child will better understand what you’re saying. In fact, studies show that these speech modifications facilitate language learning.
  • Talk to your baby: The best technique to help 2 and 3-year-olds talk is to talk to them. At this point, you should take advantage of the child’s attention. For example, if they’re looking at an object, tell them its name slowly, give it to them, and start talking about it. Ideally, you should try to get your child to repeat the words you’re saying.
  • Give them time: It’s important that you respect their timing and their silences. Don’t overwhelm them with questions, corrections, and formalities that aren’t important. For example, when they conjugate irregular verbs in a natural way and not according to the rules of grammar (sleeped instead of slept, builded instead of built, etc.)
  • Make use of body language: Gestures and body language are also forms of communication that can help your child develop speech. So, try to use gestures that capture your child’s attention during conversations.
  • Repeat what they say and correct them: Two and three-year-olds should at least try to say a few words. In these cases, a good technique is to slowly repeat what they say to encourage them to continue speaking. Also, if they make “mistakes” when pronouncing something, be patient, remember that they’re still learning, and correct them with love.
  • Read them stories: Stories are a great way to expand the language of 2 and 3-year-olds and, in turn, help them learn to talk. In this regard, you can read stories to your child before bedtime or at any time of the day. Ideally, you should choose short stories with large, colorful pictures, so you can show them the images and encourage them to identify them.

When to see a specialist

As you can see, there are many ways in which 2- and 3-year-olds can be helped to speak. However, it’s always advisable to see a specialist if your child isn’t able to utter a word at this age.

Keep in mind that a typical child at 2 years old understands approximately 500 words and produces a minimum of 20 words. They point to body parts and participate in simple games.

From 2 to 3 years of age, they elaborate questions, learn songs, and their degree of interaction in games with other children is much higher, which will have an impact on the rapid development of language. If you don’t observe any of these signs, there’s a possibility of an issue that should be identified as soon as possible.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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  • Bueno Loja, M. I., & Sanmartín Morocho, M. A. (2015). Las rimas, trabalenguas y canciones como estrategias metodológicas para estimular el desarrollo del lenguaje en niños y niñas de 3 a 4 años de edad del Centro Infantil del Buen Vivir Ingapirca, de la comunidad de Ingapirca de la parroquia Santa Ana, cantón Cuenca, provincia del Azuay (Bachelor’s thesis).
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  • Fondo de las Naciones Unidas para la Infancia (UNICEF) (2019) JUEGA CONMIGO: ACTIVIDADES PARA APRENDER Y COMUNICARSE
    CON TU HIJO DESDE EL EMBARAZO HASTA EL NACIMIENTO, oficina del país de la República Dominicana
  • Lybolt, J., & Gottfred, C. (2003). Cómo fomentar el lenguaje en el nivel preescolar. Traducido y editado por: UNESCO (2006). Suiza.
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  • Pérez Bazoco, M. (2015). La influencia de la musicoterapia en niños con disfemia.
  • Schreiner, M. S., van Schaik, J. E., Sučević, J., Hunnius, S., & Meyer, M. (2020). Let’s talk action: Infant-directed speech facilitates infants’ action learning. Developmental Psychology, 56(9), 1623.
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This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.