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Language Milestones for Toddlers

Find out if your toddler's language development is on track

As a Speech-Language Pathologist, when I am assessing whether a child’s language development is appropriate for their age, I look at three areas:

  1. Receptive Language: What they can understand
  2. Expressive Language: What they can say
  3. Social Communication & Play: Eye contact, facial expressions, playing with toys and with people

It is important for children’s language to develop in all three areas so they are able to learn new things, express themselves, and engage with people as they get older. If they have difficulty in any of these areas, or one area seems to be behind the others, this could be a clue that your child might benefit from some extra help learning language.

I have included a list of milestones for typical language development between the ages of 12-36 months. These are average ages, meaning some children are a little behind, and some children are more advanced. If you have any concerns about whether your child’s language is on track, I definitely recommend seeing a Speech Language Pathologist to help determine if their language is appropriate for their age.

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Typical Language Development (Understanding, Expressing & Social)

By 12 months:

Understanding: Consistently responds to their name, responding when you say “no”, and recognizes family member’s names.

Expressing: Says their first words within 1-2 months of their first birthday; babbling should contain a variety of sounds (e.g. babudaba), and they should be trying to communicate using gestures.

Social & Play: Holding up objects of interest to show you, looking where you point, waves “hi” or “bye”, and enjoys games like “peek-a-boo”.

By 18 months:

Understanding: Points to several body parts when asked, follows simple instructions like “come here” or “sit down”, and points to pictures in books when asked.

Expressing: *Uses 50 words and puts 2 words together (“mama up”), they learn new words every few weeks and starts asking questions (“what that?”).

Social & Play: Uses several gestures (points, claps, blows kisses, shows “shhh”, nods head); uses toys for pretend play (e.g. pretends to feed himself or talk on the phone)

By 24 months:

Understanding: Understands action words (eat, stop), follows simple familiar commands without gestures (finish your cookie, get your blanket), understands simple questions.

Expressing: *Uses 200-300 words;  uses action words (jump, walk, eat, drink), uses 2-word phrases,  starting to use 3-word phrases (“mommy go outside”), refers to self by name.

Social & Play: Pretends to feed mommy or their stuff toy; copies adults in play; takes turns in conversation with you

*These are average numbers, meaning some children have more words and some children have less. If your child is 18 months and has less than 20 words, or 2 years old and is not yet combing words, I recommend seeing a Speech-Language Pathologist. 

By 30 months:

Understanding: Understands concepts like big/little, in/under/on (put the teddy under the table); listens to a 5-10 minute story

Expressing: Frequently uses 3 word phrases; uses pronouns for self (me/I); uses words with “ing” endings (sleeping)

Social & Play: Enjoys pretending with their toys (pretending to cook a meal or feed a doll)

By 36 months (3 years):

Understanding: Understands questions such as “Where?” “What’s that?” “What’s he doing?”; follow 2-step directions (get your coat and bring it to daddy); listens to a 20 minute story

Expressing: Uses 3-5 word phrases; uses plurals (horses, babies), uses possessives “mommy’s car”, uses words like “in”, “on”, “under”

Social/Play: Pretend play has several steps (e.g. prepare food, set table, serve food); acts out less familiar events such as going to the doctor

Remember that every child learns at their own pace, but if your child isn’t meeting these milestones, I highly recommend talking to your family doctor and making an appointment with a Speech-Language Pathologist. Many countries have free services for young children!

In the mean time, click the button below for strategies you can start using today to get your toddler talking more!

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