When Should My Toddler Start Talking?

Bridget Hillsberg
February 20, 2022

When should my toddler start talking? So many questions! It's so easy as parents of toddlers to have tons questions and concerns!

  • Is my child talking enough?
  • Does she understand what I’m saying?
  • How many words should my child be saying, and what even counts as a “word”?

If you find yourself wondering, you’re not alone! Kids learn language by having it modeled for them. As they interact with you, they start making sounds, and before you know it, those sounds become words! At these early stages, words can take the form of exclamations, animal sounds, word approximations (such as “dah” for dog or “ba” for ball), and even baby sign language. These can all be counted as legit “words” if they’re being used:

  • CONSISTENTLY (regularly and more than once)
  • INDEPENDENTLY (spoken on their own)
  • INTENTIONALLY (in the right context—they know what the word means!)

So how many words should my child have?

The sequence of language development is the same for all children, but there is a RANGE of how many words a child should have at a given age rather than a specific number of words. This “EXPECTED RANGE” is an approximation of how many words are considered developmentally appropriate. The expected range shows the span of how many words a child typically says at a given age. Consider the following 4 categories:

(1) A MILESTONE is defined as what most children (90%) can do at a certain age.

(2) The AROUND AVERAGE RANGE describes what approximately 50% of children can do at a certain age.

(3) The EXPECTED RANGE encompasses the number of words in both the MILESTONE and AROUND AVERAGE ranges, which indicates what 50-90% of children can do at a certain age.

(4) The ABOVE EXPECTED RANGE reflects a range of words beyond what is expected for a child at that age. Approximately 25% of children fit into this category.

(These numbers are derived from the standardized norms from The MacArthur-Bates Assessment (2007).

Save the chart below!

Note: A child may be below the EXPECTED RANGE or well above. If a child is below the MILESTONE range, we recommend talking to your pediatrician and a speech-language pathologist.

Why did we decide to provide the number of words a child should have across a range?

There seems to be a discrepancy between what many speech-language pathologists believe is appropriate and what pediatricians (AAP, Mayo Clinic, or the CDC) provide. We want to bridge the gap because the truth is that none of these professionals are “in the wrong.”

While many speech-language pathologists use the AVERAGE RANGE as their guideline, the Mayo Clinic, AAP, and CDC use the MILESTONE as their guideline. Understanding the difference in the guidelines will help parents to evaluate with discernment.

The EXPECTED RANGE helps to bridge the gap and share the numbers from both schools of thought.

So what about MY child? When should MY toddler start talking?

So, if your child is within the EXPECTED RANGE and making continuous progress, then they are most likely “on track.” Remember, this is a range, so children will be at different places on this track even if they are the same age.

Our mission is to educate parents about communication milestones. This will equip you to discern whether your child needs additional help.

If your child is below the MILESTONE, you should be proactive!

If your child is just meeting the MILESTONE or is within the EXPECTED RANGE, we believe that when equipped with the tools needed to maximize communication opportunities, parents can significantly expand their child’s language development! That is why we developed our online courses. In these courses we teach specific strategies that are easy to implement into your daily routines and are proven to expand your child’s language!

Check out our Talk on Track (newborn-14 months) and Time to Talk: Toddler Course (15-36 months) and experience the joy of your little one talking to you!

Where Did That Word Go?

Do you have a toddler who said a word and then suddenly stopped saying it? The word just vanished! IS THIS NORMAL?  This is more common than you may think! Parents ask if this is normal EVERY SINGLE DAY!

Why does this happen? Sometimes toddlers will replace a word with a new word that they just learned, or maybe they picked up a new skill, like walking! It’s a matter of focusing on the next new thing! OR your child could be going through a sleep regression or leap. As long as your child is continually learning and saying new words, and showing an upward trajectory in language learning, chances are that they’re doing just fine.

BUT if your toddler has multiple words and then stops saying many of those words, we urge you to bring this up with your toddler’s pediatrician.

The takeaway: If your toddler stops saying a word but continues to say other words, don’t worry too much. It is important to familiarize yourself with communication milestones. Is your little one meeting other communication milestones for their age group? We have a free communication milestones checklist.

What can YOU do?

To help a vanished word come back, be sure to model that word many times a day. Repeat it again and again! Take our popular 2-minute quiz and we'll give you a personalized plan to help your child's speech development.

To learn simple and effective strategies to help get your little one talking, check out our Talk on Track (newborn-14 months) and Time to Talk: Toddler Course (15-36 months). We’d love to equip you to experience the joy of your little one talking to you!

Bridget Hillsberg
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