Speech and Language Development in Toddlers

As a pediatric speech-language pathologist I am asked all the time about speech development and language development: What’s normal? How can I help my child talk? Is it normal for my almost three year old to say “nail” for “snail?” Here are a few things I think every parent should know about speech development and language development in toddlers:

Speech development language development toddler children

How Your Toddler Learns

Your toddler is learning language all day, every day. He is learning from you in your simple daily routines like diaper changes, meal times, and bath time. These routines may get well, routine for you, but him? They are different experiences every time which means he has new and different experiences to learn new language every day! It is the little moments that often teach the most so make them count!

Pointing is So Important

Pointing is a very important tool that toddlers use to communicate. It allows your little one the ability to share what he sees in his world with you and allows you to then help him learn more about what he is interested in. Right now, my son Everett, 21 months, is rather obsessed with trucks. Whenever he sees one, he points and yells “Guck! Guck!”

When he does this, I find myself looking at the truck, and then giving him more information about the truck: “Yes Everett, that is a firetruck! {pause for him to listen and think} It is a big, red, firetruck! {pause again} Do you hear the siren? It goes woo-woo-woo.” You can read my post all about pointing for information on this important skill.

Vocabulary & Language Development

Like I said earlier, the toddler years are busy years for our little ones, but especially in terms of speech and language development. When they first enter the toddler years they are still babbling, speaking in jargon (babbling that resembles real words with adult inflection and patterns) and may even already have a couple real words. But by the time the end of the toddler years arrives they are speaking in sentences!

When your toddler turns two, he/she should have around 100-200 words in his expressive (what he can say) vocabulary and should be putting two words together and when he turns three he/she should have around 1000 words and speaking in short sentences!

Speech Development

When speech pathologists talk about speech, we are referring to actual ability to physically make (articulate) the the individual speech sounds and speech patterns in English. Though related, speech and language are different and I explain the difference on my blog HERE. Anyway, these speech sounds (we call them phonemes) slowly develop over time. In fact, it can take all the way to age eight to master all 24 consonant sounds in English, however many kids will have the majority mastered before then.

In terms of toddlers, we will watch them turn their babbles and vocal play into real words over these two years. At age two, we should be able to understand at least 25-50% of their speech and by 3 their speech should be at least 75% intelligible despite age appropriate articulation errors.

So what do I mean by age appropriate errors? There have been numerous studies done to see which speech sounds are developed when, and some sounds tend to come earlier while others tend to come later. You can check out my post on articulation development for more specific information on speech sound development.

Is My Child Developing Normally?

This is a common question. How do you know if your child is developing speech and language skills appropriately? If you have questions or concerns with your child’s speech and language development, do not hesitate to reach out for help! Countless research shows that the earlier the intervention, the better the outcomes.

There are children that are just “late talkers” but there are others that are not. I suggest trying to spend time with other children your child’s age (within a few months) to get an idea of what other children that age are doing. Watch them and observe. Talk to your pediatrician…but remember that they are not the experts in this field. If your mommy gut is still telling you something, you can find yourself an SLP to take a look.

You can check out my Series to read more about typical speech development from birth to five and you can also check out this information from the American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA) HERE. In addition you may also check out Red Flags that may indicate the need for an assessment on my blog.

Questions? Comments? I’d LOVE to hear them! I also want to Thank Brittany for this opportunity to take part in this fantastic series!

Katie is a a mom to two little ones, E (almost 4) and Ev (21 months) and a licensed and credentialed pediatric speech-language pathologist (when she finds the time). She blogs over at
Playing With Words 365
, sharing information about speech and language development, intervention strategies, therapy ideas and tips, and shares a little about her family and their life

Speech Development Language Development Toddler

A big thank you to Katie from Playing with Words 365 for sharing her insight in speech development and language development!

You can find more toddler activities and learning here.

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