Little is known about the quality and characteristics of the language used by childcare staff when interacting with infants in non-parental group care settings. This qualitative study analysed the manner in which staff used language when interacting with ten children aged between 9 and 20 months in four different long day care centres in Sydney, Australia. Each infant was audiorecorded for one whole day using a small recording device attached to her/his clothing, which captured all the language spoken directly to, or in their presence of, the infant. The infants and staff were simultaneously videorecorded as they went about their everyday activities, to provide additional contextual information. Using systemic functional linguistics as the theoretical underpinning, the study found that staff members tended to talk to more than one child at a time, limiting their potential to engage in the types of sustained conversations with individual children that have been shown to promote language development. Staff also tended to use language primarily to manage children’s behaviour and provide physical care, rather than using language to encourage children to use their own developing language to represent their experiences in a variety of contexts. The findings have implications for group size, early childhood teacher education and inservice professional development.