Babbling and Toddler Jargon – Phonological Development

By Pam Marshalla

3574173491_d1b75b622e_mQ: My preschool client says words, but they only occur at the end of long jargoned gibberish. How do I get rid of that unintelligible part?

I would not take the jargon away because jargon is a natural part of speech development. Van Riper called it pretend speech. I call the type you described Word Jargon.  It is jargon embedded with real words. Kids without speech-language impairment do this all the time, as they are moving toward 2-3 word phrases.

I just let the child jargon, and then I imitate the one intelligible word he said. This is done to help him learn to say that one word by itself under his full voluntary control.

Sample Dialogue:

Therapist: Hi, David. What are you going to have for lunch?

Child: Jargonjargonjargonjargonpizza.

Therapist: Pizza!

Child: Jargonjargonjargonjargonpizza.

Therapist: Pizza!

Child: Pizza!

You are aiming for that last step. You are trying to get him to imitate his production of that single word. You are trying to help him hear that single part, to recognize it as a complete word, and to realize the value of saying it alone.

Think of it this way: He has words. He just doesn’t know how to say them alone because he also is trying to talk like everyone else who is saying sentences. He needs permission just to say that one word.

He does not need to be discouraged from jargoning. It is good for him.

Therefore, in addition to this step, I also would provide him with ample opportunity to jargon away. Have you ever seen a 1-2 year old child sit with a book and “read” it out loud to himself? This is usually pure jargon with a few embedded real words. Give your client those types of opportunities, too.

For example, have him read you a book, or tell you a story, or tell you all about some situation, or sing you a song. You are encouraging him to jargon because this is his way of pretending to talk! Just like you have him dress up like a fireman and pretend to put out a fire, so too you have him dress up like a speaker and pretend to speak 🙂

10 thoughts on “Babbling and Toddler Jargon – Phonological Development”

  1. I’m so glad to have read this post because I was having a similar concern with one of my preschool clients. I have been working with him for a few months and have noticed that he produces jargon before 2-3 word phrases/sentences, too. Is there a natural progression that I should watch for with independent elimination of this jargon? It’s come to a point where his speech is less than 25% intelligible because the jargon is so quick paced.

    1. AJ – This is Shanti, Pam’s business manager. She is not responding to comments right now but I thought I’d help point you in the right direction for an answer 🙂 Pam covers this topic in detail in her book, “Apraxia Uncovered: The Seven Stages of Phoneme Development.” We will eventually be republishing this book without “Apraxia Uncovered” in the title because in hindsight we agree that the name is misleading… the book is primarily about phonological development. Beyond that, I suggest exploring the “phonological development” keyword tag on this blog which may give you some answers.

    2. The natural order of things is for children to jargon as they transition from single words to 2-3 word combinations. The jargon will be eliminated as the child gains competency in 2-3 word combinations. Just keep working on single words, and 2-3 word combinations. There is no time frame here because every child is different. Some take longer, some shorter, but as long as the child is jargoning I would assume he still needs it.

  2. I have a student who is 4 now but still exhibits Jargon. Often “Jargonjargonjargon okay?” What are your thoughts for getting rid of Jargon at this stage?

    1. Eileen,
      Since Pam Marshalla passed away in 2015, OMI Board Chair Robyn Merkel-Walsh MA, CCC-SLP, COM, answers blog questions for us. Here is her reply:

      Without knowing a full case history this is difficult. It would seem this is not an oral motor issue but rather a language dealt or disorder, scripting, or echolalia, where the child is either 1) trying to imitate a conversational pattern he or she has observed or 2) trying to initiate conversation but doesn’t have the language. You’d have to find out the why and then you can help. Building vocabulary and pragmatics would most likely be the answer.

      I hope this helps — thank you!

  3. I have an almost 11, year old grandson. He has spastic quadriplegic cp, non-verbal. He had a seizure at 3, years old and has been on meds to prevent future seizures. At 2, he said alligator, very clearly, it was in a favorite song at his school. Then he didn’t improve his speech and has pretty much been non- verbal. He recently, said, several words at his school, at appropriate times. His teacher, sent an email to his mom, saying, she is very proud of him and he is finding his voice. What does this mean, is he possibly on his way to talking ? TY

    1. Since Pam Marshalla passed away in 2015, OMI Board Chair Robyn Merkel-Walsh MA, CCC-SLP, COM, answers blog questions for us. Here is her reply:

      It would be best to ask the teacher exactly what she means but it sounds as if language is emergent . Based on what you have described, it may be helpful to find a therapist in your area who has knowledge and experience with Childhood Apraxia of Speech . Referral sources here :

  4. I have a cousin that communicates using jargon/gibberish. However, she can imitate words and 2 word phrases clearly. Can someone help me to understand why this happens or the cause of it? How can I help her and her mom?

  5. Imitating and coming up with words on her own are 2 different skills. If she can imitate words and 2-word phrases, that could be a strength for your cousin. (You did not state her age-I’m assuming 2 years 6 months or younger, possibly even 3) As her vocabulary and language skills continue to develop, you could expect her jargon to decrease as children who express jargon within their communication are usually demonstrating an effort to communicate as those around them. If there is intent/meaning when she is using jargon, you can help by modeling the words you think she may be intending to say. Ex. if she is pointing a toy out of reach while using jargon, you can model, “You want the ____. Here is the ____.” I don’t know her age, but after a few months if there are continued concerns and you feel she has not made progress with her language, speak with her pediatrician about possibly getting a speech and language assessment.

  6. Dear April, I wonder what you might think of the case of my son. He is 2 years and 8 months old and has started repeating and saying a few words as of 2 months ago. He uses jargon a LOT – but not necessarily to try to communicate. He likes to pretend he talks on the phone and will hold a toy in his hand as if it were a phone, mimics the hand movements of someone dialing, uses extremely accurate intonation at times, and ends the “conversation” with bye-bye – sometimes. More often its all jargon from beginning to end. Apart from the phone game he enjoys singing to himself, or just babbling away. Were in speech therapy with him, we dont live in the USA and where we are autism isnt even discussed before age 5, but I can’t shake the feeling that this points to autism.. Are there other possibilities do you think?

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