Speech Development: Learning to Talk

Hearing your child say their first word can be one of the most thrilling moments of parenthood. But before your toddler utters that first "mama," she will be very adept at communicating and understanding in other ways.

Where it Begins
Most toddlers say their first word between 12 and 14 months, usually "mama" or "dada" but "up" and "more" are often one of the first spoken words as well. However, prior to this, your baby will probably understand simple commands when said with a gesture, like holding out your hand and saying "Give me the book."

When toddlers are about 12 months old, they begin to attach meaning to words. For instance, "ba" is a ball to your toddler. As your toddler assigns meaning to more words, she begins to start trying these words out. However, the majority of her communication may still be through gesture rather than words.

As her ability to understand language grows, so does her vocabulary. By 14 or 15 months, most toddlers can understand at least one command without any gestures. And by 17 or 18 months, the majority of toddlers can say at least two words.

The Language Explosion
Around your toddler's second birthday, his ability to speak significantly increases as he begins to learn an astounding number of words. By 24 months, the majority of toddlers know between 50 and 100 words and can construct a two-word sentence, like "big dog." By 30 months, your toddler will probably know more than 300 words. She may even be learning more than nine words a day, a significant increase from the one to two words a week she was learning before she turned two.

However, some toddlers aren't very talkative and may only be saying a few words. As long as your toddler can understand what is said to him and is still effectively communicating with you in some other way, it is unlikely that there is a significant problem. If it will help make you feel better, though, an assessment by your toddler's pediatrician may help ease any worries you have over his language development.

Additionally, don't be too surprised if you're the only one who can actually understand what your toddler says. While most parents can understand almost everything their two-year-old says, few people outside the home will be able to hear the toddler with the same level of clarity. By your toddler's third birthday, though, she should be better at articulating her words and will be understood by most people. If she's not, you may want to book an appointment with her pediatrician for a language assessment.

Helping Those Words Come Out
- Encourage your toddler to ask for things you know he wants. If you know your toddler likes a glass of milk before he goes to bed, let him ask for it rather than just providing it.

- Allow your toddler to finish what she is saying. Although it can be frustrating for you to wait while she tries to find the right words, avoid jumping in. Letting her come up with the words herself will help give her more confidence in her abilities.

- Another way to help boost your toddler's language confidence is by talking with him. Even if he can't engage in a deep and meaningful conversation just yet, talking with your toddler can help him exercise his burgeoning gift of the gab.

- If your toddler makes the correct sound of an object in their babble, apply a meaning to it. If she says "daw," then encourage her by responding "Yes, it is a dog." This way she not only learns the correct word but also hears that "daw" is the correct sound for "dog."

- Help build your toddler's vocabulary by adding on to what he says. If he says "truck" you can say "fire truck" or "blue truck."

- As always, offer encouragement when your toddler says (or tries to say) the correct word. Also, listen when she talks to you and do your best to understand what she says. You can even repeat what you've heard to make sure you understood her properly.

Read more about how to encourage your toddler's language development.
Find out when you should be worried about your toddler's language skills.

Need to talk about your child's development? Chat with other moms in our online forum.

For more informatino about speech and your baby check out our baby development videos.