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Young father talking and laughing with preschool son

Oral Language

Conversations That Count: How Do Toddlers Learn?

Learn how children develop oral language skills through interactions with their caregivers and families by reading sample conversations with toddlers.

Families are their children’s first teachers. As a family member you begin teaching your babies about language as you welcome them into the world with smiles and caring words. You respond to your children’s coos, babbles, early words, and simple sentences.

Rosa tugs on Ms. Vega’s arm and says, “Wet.” Ms. Vega says, “Your diaper is wet. Let’s go change it.”

Rosa lies down on the changing table. Ms. Vega washes her hands and tells Rosa what she is doing. “I’m washing away all the germs so you will stay healthy. I’m taking off your shorts. They’re red, like your sneakers.” Rosa says, “Red sneakers.”

Ms. Vega takes a diaper from the shelf. She replaces Rosa’s wet diaper with a dry one. “All done,” says Ms. Vega. “Wash hands?” asks Rosa. “Yes,” says Ms. Vega, “let’s wash our hands.”

Rosa heads for the sink, singing. “This way, wash hands, wash hands, wash hands.” Ms. Vega sings along, then says, “Rosa, you learned a new song to sing.” “Sing song,” says Rosa.

Like many toddlers, Rosa is learning about language:

  • She communicates her needs using groups of words.
  • She repeats words she hears adults speak.
  • She learns a simple song.
  • She asks questions.
  • She answers questions.

Rosa’s caregiver helps her learn about language:

  • She responds to Rosa’s request by answering with a group of words.
  • She describes what she is doing and names a color – red.
  • She asks a simple question that Rosa knows how to answer.
  • She sings with Rosa, then congratulates her on learning the song.

Adapted from: Koralek, D. (1997). Ready * Set * Read for Families: Early Childhood Language Activities for Children from Birth through Age Five. America Reads Challenge, U.S. Department of Education.