Speech & Hearing Month – Comprehension

This month is Better Hearing & Speech Month so we will be posting some interesting information on listening and speaking skills, two subjects near-and-dear to Child’s Voice.  This article focuses on Checking for Comprehension of Verbal Words in Babies and Toddlers.  Our EI staff focuses on this each day with our toddlers.

We know a child must hear a word many times before they will demonstrate understanding, but how do we know if a child actually understands what we are saying?  Remember, a child will always UNDERSTAND a word before he or she PRODUCES it.

First, we make sure there is no context or visual cue. When we check for comprehension we use the word alone, without any context cues. Let’s consider if you are checking whether your child understands the word coat. If you are putting on your coat already or even standing by the front door and ask, where is your coat?, your child may simply be picking up on the context of seeing your coat and standing by the door. You could say, where is your blah blah, and your child may still look for their coat. If you ask your child, where is your coat BEFORE you get your coat or move towards the door, it is more likely that your child actually understands the word and is not just picking up on the visual cues/context.

Here Ways babies and toddlers show us they understand. Your baby/toddler may do more than one!


  1. Looking towards the object or person (e.g. you say where is mama and the baby looks at mama)
  1. Picking up the object (e.g. you say get your shoes and the baby crawls and picks up their shoe)
  1. Pointing to the person, picture, or object (e.g. you ask, where is the duck? And the baby points to the picture of a duck in a book or points to their toy duck on the shelf)
  1. Completing an action or gesture that corresponds with a word (e.g. you say bye-bye and baby waves without seeing you wave first; you say want up? And baby raises his arms without seeing you raise your arms.)

Your child needs to show understanding several times (2-3x) before we can be sure that he/she actually understands the word and it did not just happen by chance.

For more information on Speech and Hearing month, please visit the American Speech and Hearing Association.