Using Self Talk and Parallel Talk to Facilitate Toddler Language

Using Self Talk and Parallel Talk to Facilitate Toddler Language

Pediatric speech-language therapists have their own ways for describing the 'types of talk' that benefit children.  Two of the most simple language facilitation techniques are self talk and parallel talk.  These two strategies are pretty straightforward: talk about what you are doing as your child watches (self talk), and talk about what your child is doing or seeing (parallel talk). These strategies tend to come pretty easily to most parents, although many certainly feel a bit silly talking a blue streak to a little one who doesn't yet always talk back.  But it gets easier as you go! (It helps if you already engage in "self-talk" on a regular basis with no one around.) 

Short Phrases
In the video below, I'm using parallel talk and self talk to describe what I'm doing as I prepare for snack. I keep my phrases simple, using only two or three words at a time, because my little guy is at the one-word phrase level (he only says one word at a time).  When I'm teaching parents to use parallel talk and self talk, I often suggest they use phrases that are just a bit higher level than what their child is currently using.

Choosing Words
As I talk, I choose simple concrete nouns (milk, apple) paired with common verbs (pour, eat, cut) and simple, early-developing concepts (bye, in, yummy).  I do so because I know that as children start to talk, their first words tend to be nouns that represent the objects that surround them. They then begin to use words to represent the common actions they see, and then finally begin using simple locations (in, on, out, up, down), sizes (big, little) and quantities/qualities (more, one, all, yummy, yucky, hot, all gone).  So it is these three categories of words that I weave into my comments as I go. 

Indirect vs. Direct
You'll notice that I don't command my little guy to say words, because parallel talk and self talk involve indirect language facilitation, meaning that we don't require children to talk back or withhold anything until they do so. Instead, we surround children in specific types of language with the expectation that as children are exposed to these language models, they will begin to spontaneously talk in a very natural way. Although there is certainly a time when more direct language facilitation strategies are required, self-talk and parallel talk can be powerful in and of themselves.  The effects are not always immediate, as young children might not talk back right away. But, over time, these strategies can be fantastic way to keep a toddler's language growing. 

Responsivity -  a fancy word that simply means I consistently and naturally respond to my little one's communication attempts.  Maternal responsivity is positively linked to language development in both typically developing children and those children who have language delays.  As I respond to my baby boy's comments and actions,  I sometimes expand his phrases, such as when he says, "apple" and I respond by saying "Apple. Yummy apple. We're going to eat apple!" or when he says, "please" and I expand it to, "please, apple." And sometimes I simply imitate his actions in a playful way, such as when I comment on and imitate his yawn, which elicits continued interaction and a giggle from him.  Although it might seem small, those little moments of shared social engagement build a beautiful foundation for language development over time.

Posted: Sat 09 Feb 2019