Between 12 and 24 months of age, changes in the brain help your toddler learn and understand language. Most toddlers understand many more words than they are able to speak. For example, they are often able to point to their nose or eyes or other body parts when asked, even though they may not say the words for them.
The rate at which children learn to talk varies widely, although in general you can expect your child to:
- Say a few words with one or two syllables, such as "ball" and "doggie," by 12 months of age. One-year-olds also usually can say "mama" and "dada." They recognize the names of other family members and their favorite toys. And they understand simple statements such as "all gone" and "give me."
- Use a mix of made-up words and understandable words between 12 months and 18 months of age. This is sometimes called jargon.
- Speak at least 50 words by 24 months of age. Children typically gradually add words for important objects, people, or places, such as "bottle" or "doggie."
- Start combining two or more words, such as "more peas" or "doggie run," between 18 and 24 months of age. At this stage, toddlers may also be able to understand two-step commands, such as "Bring me your shoes and sit down by me."
Language development milestones are the most variable of all skills. Toddlers who are slower than others in reaching these milestones may still be in the range of normal development. It is important to identify and monitor these patterns but not to become too concerned. If your child communicates effectively through emotional expression, gestures, and other means, usually he or she will develop speech normally. But if your child seems to lose language skills that previously were mastered, it is a good idea to have him or her checked by a doctor.
Also, keep in mind that newfound language skills may make it seem as though your toddler understands more than he or she really does. Although toddlers sometimes express words that seem to convey their grasp of an issue, they do not necessarily fully understand. For example, a child may say "go bye-bye" as you leave but may not fully understand what is happening until you are gone. When parents understand this gap between speech and comprehension, they can help the children manage their feelings.
For more information, see the topic Speech and Language Development.
Current as of: August 21, 2019
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: Susan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Louis Pellegrino, MD - Developmental Pediatrics