To learn to talk, your toddler needs to hear you talking. More specifically, your little one needs to hear you talk in three ways: about her, for her, and with her.

For example, when you talk about her you are narrating what she is doing (e.g., “You are opening the door. Open!”).

When you talk for her you are saying what she should say in that moment (e.g., saying “Thank you!” when she receives a gift).

Talking with her refers to reflecting your toddler’s non-verbal behavior. For example, ask your toddler “How are you, Maria?” If she is smiling you can say, “You seem so happy! Are you happy?” Notice how she responds. She’ll probably smile bigger. 

After all this listening and non-verbal communication, she is ready to practice talking. Here are 3 musical ways to stimulate your toddler’s speech (organized by difficulty level):

  • Complete the Common Song: Sing a song your child knows very well, but leave off the last syllable or word. For example: “Old McDonald had a farm, E-I-E-I-” or “Twinkle, twinkle little star, how I wonder what you-” You might not immediately get the word exactly. To start, you might hear simple vocal out-put at response time. That’s a good start!
  • Complete the Common Sentence: Use a simple melody to practice saying simple phrases and leave off the last word. For example: “Hello, how are _____?”  Eventually, you want to help your child say the entire phrase. Next, you can sing: “Hello, how ___ ___” deleting each word until they can say the phrase independently.
  • Complete the New Sentence: Use a simple melody to practice saying new phrases and leave off the last word for the child to decide what word to use. For example: “I feel ______” The same process for independence applies here too. “I feel____” is a prompt to stimulate speech. For additional aid, the prompt could be seen visually on a laminated paper, then only verbal “I feel__,” and then non-verbally (e.g., a nod) until no prompt is needed.

Throughout the speech and language development process, make sure to encourage your toddler. Even the smallest attempts and improvements are opportunities for mini-celebrations. Encouragement can sound like, “Great talking! I love hearing your voice.” 

MUSTIM steps adapted from: Thaut, C. P. (2014). Musical speech stimulation (MUSTIM). In M.H. Thaut and V. Hoemberg (Eds.), Handbook of Neurologic Music Therapy (pp. 147-149), New York, NY: Oxford University Press.