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The importance of conversational skills in cognitive development

parents talking to their baby

Key points:

  1. Conversational turn-taking is crucial for language development in children between 18 and 24 months.
  2. Children engaged in conversations during this period show higher IQ scores and language skills later in school.
  3. Reading should be part of your daily routine to enrich language skills.
  4. Practice and exposure to language are essential for children’s linguistic development during this critical period.

We’ve previously talked about what you can do to enhance your child’s language development and about findings on how the way you interact with your child makes a difference.

Another recent study by Pediatrics found that the window between 18 and 24 months is crucial when it comes to language development. Children 18-24 months who were engaged in conversations had higher scores in IQ, verbal comprehension, expressive and receptive language, and cognition skills 10 years later during their school years. With these findings, the authors emphasized the need for parents to create an early language environment for their children.


Your little one can begin conversational turn-taking with you at around 18 months of age. If you keep practicing and providing them with opportunities to have a conversation, they’ll go from two- or three-word sentences (“Mommy go”) to those with four, five, or even six words (“Where’s the toy, Mommy?”). They’ll begin understanding how to use pronouns and even describe ideas to express their emotions and desires.

Just by listening and practicing, your child will master many of the basic rules of grammar by the time they enter school. You can help enrich their language skills by making reading a part of your everyday routine. At this age, they can follow a story line and will understand and remember ideas in books. With practice your child’s sentences will expand and be more complex. They’ll begin comprehending and selecting the right verbs, nouns, or pronouns to arrange them in the corresponding order for each sentence as they become quite the communicator.

For some children this language development process does not run smoothly. It’s estimated that one in every ten to fifteen children has trouble with language comprehension and/or speech. Don’t worry; remember that while some children develop language skills at a steady rate, others seem to master words in an uneven manner. Personality plays a role as well, as some children are naturally more talkative than others.

Unless you and your pediatrician find any specific difficulty, practice will get your little one there. These months are a critical period for acquiring linguistic skills. As you make reading a part of your everyday routine, try to choose activity-oriented books that encourage your child to touch, point, and name objects or to repeat certain phrases. Being surrounded by constant exposure to language will build hard-wired connections inside their brain and they’ll be able to express their ideas in more elaborate and sophisticated ways in the future.

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