Speech development in babies and toddlers

Watching children develop from a babbling baby to a talking preschooler is one of the most fun aspects of the early years of parenting. Every child is different when it comes to their speech development, but it is a good idea to keep an eye on the guidelines of what is within the range of normal, and to seek professional assessment if one is concerned. The following are some guidelines of what to look for at different ages.

Under 12 months

Towards the age of 12 months babies will be babbling and experimenting with sounds. By around 12 months children will usually have one or two  words.The first words are often “mama” and “dada”. It is interesting to note that the word “mama” means “mum” in many languages around the world, possibly because it is a very easy sound for babies to make. Some parents may even miss the first word, thinking that their baby is just babbling.

What to look out for- if the child is not babbling at all

12-18 months

Between 12 and 18 months children will pick up a few more words; most will have somewhere between 5 and 10 words at the age of 18 months.

What to look out for- if the child doesn’t seem to understand anything say, or isn’t trying to talk.

18-24 months

During this time children start to acquire words at a more rapid rate and even start putting two words together. By the age of two there will be a wide variation in children’s speech, but they will usually have at least twenty clear words, and make two word sentences.

What to look out for- if the child isn’t putting two words together.

24-30 months

This is the age when children’s language acquisition really begins to skyrocket. By the age of 30 months, children should have at least 200 words. Many will have many more than this by this age, and parents will likely lose track of the exact number of words they have once it goes beyond 200.

What to look out for- if the child doesn’t have at least 50 words. This is an ideal age to access toddler speech therapy services if a delay is evident.

30-36 months

As mentioned in the previous section, by now parents probably won’t know how many words their child can say. By the time children turn three they should be putting three words together. They will sing familiar songs and may know some of the words of their favourite books. By this age many children will be talking in full sentences and having actual conversations. Strangers should be able to understand 50% of what a child says

What to look out for- if the child isn’t putting three words together or if strangers can’t understand much of what the child says.

36-40 months

By the age of 3 ½, children will be speaking very well, with a big vocabulary and a grasp on some grammatical concepts. They should be able to have full conversations with family and friends. Their speech should be mostly understandable to strangers.

What to look out for

If the child isn’t having conversations or if strangers can’t understand most of what the child says. If parents are concerned about their child’s speech development, it is best to bring it up with their doctor or nurse, either at a scheduled check up, or in a separate appointment.

There is a range of reasons children’s speech may develop a bit slower than normal. The good news is that early intervention can make a huge difference. If parents are not sure if there is a problem, it is better to err on the side of caution. A professional will be able to assess if intervention is required.