As parents, we want to give our children the best possible start in life. One of the most important ways to do this is by helping them develop strong language skills. Children who have strong language and communication skills are more likely to succeed in school, have better relationships with others, and have better job prospects later in life. And you don’t need to be a language expert, child development pro, or find magical extra hours in the day to make a lasting impact. Parenting is hard we are here to help make it feel a little so with practical tips, advice, and mom-of-four-tested best practices and research for your real life.

So, how can we help a one-year-old develop strong language skills? In this post, we will go over the practical and easy-to-apply tips to get you started.

Why is it Important to Develop Language Skills Early?

Language is the foundation for learning and communication. It is through language that we are able to express our thoughts and feelings, ask questions, and understand the world around us. For young children, language is an essential tool for learning, socializing, and exploring their world. Children who have strong language skills are more likely to have better cognitive development, and better social skills, and are more confident when interacting with their peers and their grown-ups.

Additionally, research has shown that children who are exposed to language at an early age are more likely to develop a larger vocabulary and better reading skills later in life. This is because the first few years of life are a critical period for language development. During this time, the brain is rapidly growing and forming connections that will be used for language and other important skills. (Does anyone remember how hard it was to learn Spanish in eighth grade? A topic for another post….)

So, what can parents do to help their one-year-old develop strong language skills? Check out our top 5 easy-to-implement tips + guidance on resources for more support:

Mother talking to her baby
grown-up joins baby for tummy time conversation

1. Talk to your child

One of the simplest and most effective ways to help your child develop language skills is to talk to them. It is as simple as it sounds. Even before your baby can understand or comprehend what you are saying, narrate your actions, and talk about what is happening in the world around you. These are the earliest building blocks for developing their own spoken words. The more you talk to your child, the more they will be exposed to language, they will begin to babble and eventually form their own words to speak back to you.

It’s also important to ensure you mix in plenty of simple, clear language when talking to your child. One-year-olds need a wide mix of experiences, so don’t slow down and simplify all of your speech, but occasionally it is important to model simple words and phrases. By using simple language, you can help your child build their vocabulary and understanding of language. Starting simple lays the foundation for speaking in more complex sentences later on.

a grown-up reading a chunky board book to a young baby

2. Read to Your Child

Reading to your child every day is another critical way to help them develop language skills. There is no such thing as reading too early, you can and should start right from birth, or wherever you are reading this! Reading books with your child gives them the opportunity to hear different words and learn new concepts. Pointing to objects and naming them in the book and eventually pausing and leaving space for your child to name the object will support their vocabulary. And as tempting as it is, do not turn this into a “quiz your baby” game with a stream of “what is this? and what is this?”. While it feels good to check the boxes of words your child is mastering these quiz-style reading sessions create unnecessary pressure and performance and can slow down your child’s interest in reading.

Also, it’s perfectly fine for one-year-olds to not read books front to back just yet, you can model but moving around the book, ending books early, or changing books after just a page or two is developmentally appropriate and perfectly fine at this age.

Any type of reading is great, but at the age of 1, board books are an excellent option for durability for curious toddler hands and mouths and the ease of page-turning. Board books offer an opportunity for

3. Sing Songs and Play Rhyming games

Songs and rhymes are a fun and interactive way to help your child develop language skills that will be the base for learning to spell and categorize later in school. This does not mean you are now bound to a world of children’s music and dated nursery rhymes about plagues (Ring Around the Rosey, anyone?).

Listening to a wide variety of music and singing along and reading your favorite poetry is just as powerful for building these skills. We know in our own lives music can be such a bonding experience so keep it fun for both of you and a fun and joyful part of your parenting journey.

We leave you to select your own favorite music artists but to get you started have dropped a few of our favorite books of children’s poetry that are one year old and grown-up approved (you can find these and more through our online store at

Poetry & Books that Rhyme

Cast Away: Poems for our Time by Naomi Shihab Nye
We Sang You Home by Richard Van Camp
Science Verse by Jon Scieszka
Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae
Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson

4. Encourage Your Child to Talk

As your baby transition into a full-blown toddler and is finding their own voice, encouraging your child to talk is an important part of helping them develop language skills. Early on you do this by responding to their babbling, even when it doesn’t make sense. You can smile, nod or respond with encouraging words like “thank you for sharing that”, or “wow you seem really excited about that”. As they are building more communication tools, ask questions and encourage a verbal response in addition to non-verbal communication like pointing or nodding.

older and younger children play with blocks

5. Play with Your Child

We often say that children’s work is play. And it reigns true with language development, play is where the work and growth really happen in the most relaxed and fun of ways. Play removes expectations, it removes distractions (it’s hard, but tuck your phone away for a greatly improved connection and language exchange), and be present. For infants and toddlers, we love to start with blocks and simple chunky puzzles. Name and talk about the pieces as you build. Again, this isn’t the time to quiz and test your child’s knowledge. It absolutely feels so good and soul-filling to watch your child soar as they ace your questions, but you would never want your partner to quiz you during a date about your work knowledge, so try not to quiz your child. Instead, work on narrating their actions as well as your own actions “oh you are stacking the blue block on top of the pink one, I’m going to put the green one on top of the blue block”. Our favorite items carried at Marley & Moose are listed below.

When to Get Professional Help

As a guideline and reference point we have shared the Mayo Clinic outlined milestones for language development below. This list is not exhaustive and in some ways nuanced so only use it as a springboard. If you have any concerns, do reach out to your primary medical provider to determine if a speech pathologist (speech therapist) or audiologist referral may be needed to gather more information about how to best support your child.

Supportive therapy when started early is highly effective at addressing any potential speech or language delays and setting your child up for success as a young learner. In most states, there are free services for all children under the age of 5 but often waitlists so getting your child signed up early is always a great idea. Specific information for your area can be gathered from your primary care provider.

By the end of 3 months

By the end of three months, your child might:

  • Smile when you appear
  • Make cooing sounds
  • Quiet or smile when spoken to
  • Seem to recognize your voice
  • Cry differently for different needs

By the end of 6 months

By the end of six months, your child might:

  • Make gurgling sounds when playing with you or left alone
  • Babble and make a variety of sounds
  • Use his or her voice to express pleasure and displeasure
  • Move his or her eyes in the direction of sounds
  • Respond to changes in the tone of your voice
  • Notice that some toys make sounds
  • Pay attention to music

By the end of 12 months

By the end of 12 months, your child might:

  • Try imitating speech sounds
  • Say a few words, such as “dada,” “mama” and “uh-oh”
  • Understand simple instructions, such as “Come here”
  • Recognize words for common items, such as “shoe”
  • Turn and look in the direction of sounds

By the end of 18 months

By the end of 18 months, your child might:

  • Recognize names of familiar people, objects and body parts
  • Follow simple directions accompanied by gestures
  • Say as many as 10 words

By the end of 24 months

By the end of 24 months, your child might:

  • Use simple phrases, such as “more milk”
  • Ask one- to two-word questions, such as “Go bye-bye?”
  • Follow simple commands and understand simple questions
  • Speak about 50 or more words
  • Speak well enough to be understood at least half the time by you or other primary caregivers

Questions or suggestions to add to this post? Email us at hello at marleyandmoose dot com or message us on social