Children's Hospital Colorado

Toddler Talk - Is Your Tot on Target?

child practices reading

Hearing your child say “mama” or “dada” for the first time is a big moment for any parent. But how do you know if your little one is developing speech normally? Jaye Wike, speech language pathologist at Children’s Hospital Colorado, offers some milestones to help parents pinpoint possible delays.

What is the normal age range for children to begin communicating through speech?

Children often begin using single words at 12 months old. By 18 months, children can have 10 to 20 single words in their vocabulary. By 24 months, children can have 200 or more single words and will begin to put two-word combinations together. Common letter sounds that children between 1 and 2 years old often use include, p, b, m, t, h and w.

What are the signs of normal speech development?

Communication development begins in infancy, so parents should watch for the following patterns:

  • In the first 3 months, infants “coo.”
  • Babies between 4 to 6 months engage in vocal play and babble sounds.
  • From 7 months to one year, babbling consonant-vowel combinations occur, with an increasing variety of consonant sounds. They use intonation, and these sound combinations begin to sound similar to familiar words.
  • Children between 12 and 15 months old should be using single words and should have more than 10 to 20 single words in their vocabulary by 18 months old. Words should include both consonants and vowels.
  • 2-year-olds should be using 2 to 3 word sentences, and can have around 200 words in their vocabulary.
  • 3-year-olds can follow simple “wh” questions (Why? Where? What? When?) and understand beginning concepts. They use 3 to 4 word sentences to communicate. Their speech can be understood 75% of the time (or more), by an unfamiliar listener.

When should parents consult their child’s pediatrician or a speech language pathologist?

Contact with your pediatrician is recommended if the above signs are not seen. Along with speech, your child’s understanding and use of languages will be screened.

  • At 12 months old, your child should be pointing to objects you name, making gestures and recognizing his or her name.
  • By 18 to 20 months old, your child should also be following simple directions.
  • If a 24-month-old child uses less than 50 single words and is not beginning to put two-word combinations together, parents may want to seek advice.

If these skills are not yet emerging, your pediatrician may refer your child for a full evaluation with a speech language pathologist.

Download a PDF of speech milestones for your child here (.pdf).

Checklist of speech milestones

2 to 3 years old:

  • Uses about 150 to 200 words
  • Understands simple questions and directions
  • Uses pronouns ("me," "you," "I,") but still mixes them up
  • May stutter on words or sounds
  • By 3 years old, your child is using 2 to 3 words sentences and can be understood by a stranger 75% of the time

3 to 4 years old:

  • Uses approximately 1,000 words
  • Can answer simple questions
  • Speaks in 4 to 6 word sentences
  • Speaks clearly enough so most people can understand them
  • Starting to tell stories

Learn more about audiology, speech and learning care at Children's Hospital Colorado.

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