Along with crawling and smiling, a child’s first words are cause for joy and celebration among new parents. So when can you expect your little one to utter that magical “mamma” or “dada”?
“One of the most common questions I get asked is: “When should my child begin to talk?” says Lauren Sharkey, speech therapist at Kutest Kids Early Intervention.
Most developmental experts agree that there exist a series of key language milestones that children reach, usually at around the same age.
The First Year
After birth, a baby’s only way to communicate is through crying. But shortly thereafter, from one to four months old, it is not uncommon to hear babies coo in response to their parents’ voices. They will also develop a wonderful variety of gurgles and sighs along the way, in order to relate to their environment.
At around six to nine months old, a child will begin to babble and combine different sounds. Babbling is considered a key milestone as it represents the beginning of real communication and relationship building.
Vocalizing different vowels and consonants is like a game to a baby; he’ll be playing with his tongue, teeth, and vocal cords to articulate all kinds of fun sounds. This is the time when the words “mama” or “papa” may bring tears to a parent’s eyes (although the child will not yet understand the meaning of the words).
Babies less than twelve months old should also become aware of names of familiar objects such as car or teddy. If a baby watches intently but doesn’t react to sounds, it could be a sign of hearing loss.
The Second Year
Between twelve to fifteen months, toddlers normally use a vocabulary of four to seven words, and enjoy making a wide variety of babbling sounds. A child will also start to mimic the words spoken by those around them, and they should demonstrate the ability to understand and carry out an easy one-action instruction, like ‘please give me the ball.’
“I always say around one year old they should have about five words that they should be using to get their wants and needs met,” says Sharkey. “And between one and two years old, they should develop between twenty to twenty-five words that they’re able to use throughout the day; to be able to ask for what they want, to tell you what’s wrong, and anything else that needs to be addressed.”
Indeed, from fifteen to eighteen months old, a child will normally boast a vocabulary of up to ten words, and understand their meaning. He may even change his tone when asking a question. Toddlers at this stage start to recognize the powerful role language plays in communicating their needs and having them met.
The greatest range of variability may come between eighteen and twenty-four months. In general, kids are able to use roughly twenty words by eighteen months, and up to fifty words by their second birthday.
At twenty-four months, a child begins to form simple two-word sentences, such as ‘big dog’ or ‘cold apple’; they can pick out familiar objects and people from pictures, and are able to understand and carry out clear two-step requests, like ‘please get your teddy and bring it to me.’
When in Doubt…Seek Advice From a Professional
If you’re concerned that your child isn’t realizing important milestones in their language development, ask your pediatrician or your state’s early intervention agency for an evaluation.
Understanding the norms and delays in children’s speech and language progression can be of great value in helping help you determine if there is cause for concern, or if your child is right where they should be.