Your Child’s Speech and Language: 18-24 Months

Can you believe your little one is a year and a half old!? His second birthday will be right around the corner…have you started planning the party yet??? ;) He is walking all over and getting into everything and should have at least several words he is using consistently now and by the end of this 6 month period he should be putting words together! Let’s see what else is in store for him…

Development from 18-24 Months

As I mentioned in my last segment in this series, the time period from 12-24 months has the largest span of “normal” in terms of speech and language development. Some 12 month olds have many words while others will not utter the first one for a couple more months. Some 18 month olds are putting 2 and 3 words together while others only have 10 words total. This is all normal…but can definitely make it harder to know if your child is on track.

Cognitively and motorically, your little guy is learning new things everyday. He is learning to walk up and down stairs, catching and throwing a ball, and might be starting to scribble little circles. He may (or may not) be interested in putting on and taking off his shoes and socks (my son at 21 months is OBSESSED with socks and shoes right now!) He may also start learning how to jump around 21 months or so and may start to get air! He is starting to know where things belong in your home and where to find them when he wants them. He may start to use toys in different ways and start to experiment with them…which means you better make sure you are keeping your eye on him! This is the time that you might find the entire roll of toilet paper in the bowl or find his trains in some really odd places. Remember how I said he will be using things in new and different ways? Your child’s problem solving skills are developing rapidly and he is starting to realize that he can use a chair or a table as a stool. Say he sees a cookie on the counter and he wants it. He is learning that he can simply pull one of your nesting tables over to the kitchen, climb on top and get that cookie! Your child isn’t being naughty, he is problem solving and this is such an important skill!

Slowly over this time period he should be more and more interested in books and should be able to sit for longer and longer periods of time to listen to the stories. He should be starting to be more of an active participant in story time by turning the pages and pointing to objects when named. He may start to point out objects in the pictures and name them as well. In fact, towards the end of this period you may find him sitting alone looking through books! I remember by daughter was so obsessed with books during this time that she actually slept with them. Which is why the theme of her second birthday party was Bookworm.

(Ellie stopping to “read” all the books she got at her Bookworm Party)

In social and play skill news, your little guy might be starting to “test” his caregivers. You tell him no, and he does it anyway! You try to redirect his climbing behavior but he turns around and climbs something else. Oh yes…it is getting exciting (Remember those problem solving skills that are developing? He wants to use them all.the.time.) He might have attachments to his favorite toys and should enjoy playing near (not really “with”) other children and when playing by himself, you may hear him talking to himself or narrating his play.  He may start to enjoy hugging other people around this time as well and should enjoy interacting with children and adults even if he has a shy personality.

Receptively (what he can understand) he should be able to follow simple directives and answer simple questions. When you ask him “Where’s daddy?” he should start to look around for daddy and maybe even find him! He should be able to follow directives like “Get your shoes” or “Kick the ball” and even “Put your dish in the sink” (Yes, my 21 month old knows how to put his dish in the sink!) As I mentioned earlier, he also should be able to point to common objects in pictures when named like balls, doggies, cookies, juice, and other things he may be interested in. My son at 21 months can point out a baseball vs. a football because this is something he is interested in, but I am not sure my daughter did the same at this age.

Expressively, around 18 months of age, your child should have a bare minimum of 8-10 spoken words but could have an upwards of 50 or more. However this is an average. Remember last time I mentioned that my own son at 19 months barely had 8 words but by 21 months he is well over the 50 word mark. During this time frame, your child should be learning new words daily. It is common, however, for your child to seem to learn 20 new words one day and yet not say another “new” word for a few days. Totally normal. It is also normal for a child to seem to “lose” words. For example, my son’s first word was “bye bye” at 9.5 months yet months later he stopped saying it. He was gaining new words and communicating well so I wasn’t worried. However, It is not normal for a child to talk and then stop talking or basically lose all his words. This is a red flag that something might be going on and you will want to bring this up to your pediatrician right away of your child was talking and then stops using words to communicate.

The biggest milestone that happens during this time regarding communication is the transition from the use of single words to the use of two word combinations! This is the beginning of your child using grammar and the beginning of your child using sentences! It seems like just yesterday he was a sweet newborn sleeping in your arms and now he is starting to put two words together to talk about his world.

At 21 months Ev is starting to put two words together

So how does this happen? We don’t really know, but sometime between 18 months and 2 years of age, usually once they have a good 50+ words in their expressive vocabulary, your child tends to enter the time that we refer to as the language explosion. He will begin to put two words together to communicate like “more cookie” or “big truck” and it will seem like he is learning new words by the hour. He also should be asking simple questions either with rising intonation. For example, “Daddy??” or “Where Daddy?”  By the time your child hits his second birthday he should have between 100-200+ words and should be starting to combine 2 words. It is such an exciting time!

Your child may be communicating more and more each day but his speech may still be hard to understand. This is ok! It takes years for little ones to learn how to say all the speech sounds in his/her language so at first his words can be difficult to understand, though as a parent you typically understand more than strangers can. However he should be using many different consonant sounds at the beginning of words. Sounds he should be using around this time are p, m, h, n, w, b, t, d but he may also be using k, g, f, v ,s and z. As he learns to talk, he will not be saying all the speech sounds correctly and he will probably leave some sounds out of some words, and this is OK. You can read a bit more about speech development HERE.

So what does the next year hold in terms of speech and language development? Check back next week as we discuss your child’s speech and language development 2-3 years!

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References:
American Speech-Language Hearing Association Website (2011). How does your child hear and talk? Birth to one year. Retrieved from http://www.asha.org/public/speech/development/01.htm (9-1-2012)

Lanza, J.R. & Flahive, L.K. (2008). LinguiSystems guide to communication milestones: 2009 Edition. East Moline, IL: LinguiSystems, Inc. Retrieved from http://www.linguisystems.com/pdf/Milestonesguide.pdf (9-1-2012)

McLaughlin, S. (1998). Introduction to language development.  San Diego, CA: Singular Publishing Group, INC.

DISCLAIMER: There is a wide range of “normal” when it comes to children’s development. The age ranges used in this series are only estimates. Please remember that this information is for educational purposes only and in no way replaces the assessment by a qualified medical professional. If you feel your child has delays in his/her communication skills, please speak to your pediatrician or locate a speech pathologist in your area for an assessment. Be sure to read the full TERMS OF USE on this site for more info. For tips on how to find an SLP in your area read HERE.

Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links.

About Katie

Katie is a licensed, credentialed and certified pediatric speech-language pathologist and mom to three (5, 3 and 9 months). Her passion about educating, inspiring and empowering parents of children with all abilities led her to start her blog Playing With Words 365 where she shares information about speech and language development, therapy ideas and tips, intervention strategies and a little about her family life too. Katie has been working in the field of speech pathology for 9 years and is certified in The Hanen Centre’s It Takes Two to Talk ® and Target Word ® programs and holds a certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). In addition to blogging and being a mommy, Katie works part time in her small private practice in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can follow her on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.

Comments

  1. My little guy is officially 18 months in 3 days yet he is not really using words yet. He makes lots of sounds like ma ma ma, da da da, ba Ba Ba, and most recently monkey sounds and uh oh. Mainly he whines a lot! Should I be concerned? I had brought it up to his doc at his 12 month but she felt like he was still on track for everything else and felt he was concentrating more on walking, climbing etc rather than talking. Is he a late bloomer or should I look into occupational theraphy? He went to therapist when he was younger for torticolis. We also have issues with feeding bit I don’t think that related but then again it could be. Thanks and I love your blog!

    • Hi Kristin and welcome to PWW365 :) Regarding your son, at 18 months with no words you may want to get him assessed by a speech-language pathologist. Some children are simply “late talkers” and catch up on their own (I was one, and my son is following my path) however some children need a little help. Your pedi was on track in the sense that we do look at the WHOLE child when considering if a child may need speech therapy, however in 6 months since his 12 month appt I’d want him to have made some progress in speech. An assessment will not hurt and you may find he starts talking up a storm before you even make it to the appt! Good luck to you!

  2. None of my kids had more than ma ma da da ba ba and uh oh at 18 months, my daughter barely had more at 24 months, by 26 months however she was making 3-4 word sentences, apparently I was the same. My 20 month old boys have a few more words mainly “more” and “no”! I find it fascinating watching how different kids develop language differently.

    • Lisel I agree it is so fascinating! My daughter was in no way advanced in language but she simply had much more at this age than my son has now.

  3. Chrystina says:

    Just found your website through Pinterest. Wish I had read it sooner. My son just turned 2 two weeks ago and only uses about 10 words. He is our first and I think we just always knew what he wanted and didn’t make him work for it by using his words. He understands and follows directions really well. So I know he understands us, he just doesn’t talk. I also made the mistake of teaching him the sign for more and now he signs that for everything. I hope it’s not too late to implement your suggestions and ideas. I am giving him to the first of the year and then I guess we will need to start speech therapy. Thank you for your informative blog.

  4. Found you throught Pinterest too! What what a great post! My son is 17 months and not many words yet, but he is being raised biligual and I am amazed that he can tell it’s the same object in both languages or even tell that mommy speaks Spanish and Daddy English! You post really made me think about being present and mindful that he is learning from me constantly!

    • Welcome Stephanie, I am so glad you are finding my series helpful! :) I LOVE that you are raising your son bilingual. What a lucky kid!

  5. Thank you for your website. We have 22 month old twin girls. We recently had them evaluated and will be using some Early Intervention in our area (one daughter qualified and one did not). Just curious…do you find twins are delayed more often then singleton children? I am looking forward to reading more and using ideas and activities from your site. Thank you for sharing!!

    • Hi Michelle and welcome! To answer your question, it is common for twins to develop language at a slower rate that singletons. I actually hate to say they are “delayed” but there are several different factors that can play into twins’ developing language a bit slower. One is that twins are more likely to be preemies, for example. However I couple years ago I saw two sets of twins (one set of identical boys and one sent of B/G) for therapy..they were both 4 years old going on 5 and both sets had phonological delays (speech articulation difficulties). The identical boys had identical error patterns where as the B/G set did not. Fascinating! Anyway, I hope your girls continue to do well and I hope you stick around and join the conversations here at PWW365! :)

  6. This is a great site! I have a 22 month-old girl, and we have been working on learning new words and using them everyday. A month ago she would only saw a few words, and would point or make sounds instead of talking. Your section “how to help your child talk” has been of great help for us. Recently I’ve noticed that the first few times we practice a new word she says it backwards, and other times she would just make a sound with her mouth closed. Is this normal for her age? (On a note, we speak Spanish at home, but her English words are more accurate) Thank you!

    • Welcome Mile! I am so happy to hear that my site is helping you learn how to help your child :D As far as new words, it can take children time to learn how to say new words. Regarding “backwards” I’d have to have an example. And the fact you are raising her bilingually is AWESOME but expect her to need a little more time to learn :) PH and the closed mouth…some children go through a phase where they do this. Keep and eye on it and hopefully she will stop doing it.

      • Thank you for your insight! One example of her “backward” words would be “tea” instead of saying “eat”, or “pipe” instead of “pepi” (that’s the name of a horse at grandpa’s) I must say that we have been able to correct a few words after repeating them several times, but this happens a lot when she tries a new word. Thanks again!

  7. My daughter is 24 months old and she is starting to combine words “daddy doe”, but she is mostly very difficult to understand. She seems to mumble things or say them under her breath and sometimes is nasal (especially with “n” sounds). She cannot say “w” or “h” sounds at all, so she omits them from words, i tried teaching her to say “home” and after several days she now will repeat “ome”. She is very intelligent but appears to struggle at times to use words independent from prompts, but not all the time.

    My son had only 10 words at 2, but caught up by 3 (he was in speech), and my other daughter was very advanced in her speech and language skills. So, i am struggling with my youngest and knowing if i should call to have her evaluated or not. The most basic red flags she seems to be ok, but she gets so frustrated when we don’t understand her that i can’t help but worry.

  8. Lauren McGuire says:

    I have been thankful to read your article and hear your examples of your own children’s differing speech development. My daughter spoke well before her first birthday and had easily over way 100 words by 18 months. My son however is 18 months and had only about 10 words – while in all his play it is evident that he is an intelligent little problem solver it has been difficult not to worry about the difference in their development -even when google searches confirmed he was within normal boundaries.

    I knew my daughters speech was advanced but it has made gauging the development for her brothers speech more difficult.

    • Oh Lauren, I understand! Even as an SLP, I have been watching my own son very carefully because of how different (and slower) his speech development has been. Like I have mentioned before, his motor skills though have always been advanced. The speech is coming along now ;) Keep your eye on him and make sure he continues to add new words to his vocabulary. Good luck!

  9. Kristina says:

    Hi there! I am a home childcare provider and one of my little ones who is 23 months old has no words. He also does not point, wave have any interest in using a spoon or crayon. I am quite concerned something is off with him. Should I be? The parents don’t seem to take me serious.

  10. Thank you so much for your wonderful information!!
    My 18 month old is very advanced with his motor skills and has
    about 10 words he regularly uses, he’s said about
    50 words. My worry is he’s said many words only a few times
    and stops using words he use to always say. My husband and
    Inlaws are very concerned, so now it’s making me worry. I’ve been a nanny
    for over 15 years and think his development is normal but I’m being
    pushed to the point of concern.

  11. Stephanie says:

    Hi Katie!

    I love love love your site! I’m a speech pathologist as well, but used to work with adults in rehab hospital setting. Now I’m home with my 16 month old daughter. She already has about 80+ words used consistently and is starting to combine (Hi mama, bye bye daddy, etc). I feel as if I’ve lost all my learned techniques from grad school! Do you have any tips for helping her combine words more? I definitely model! Thank you so much :) You’re awesome!

  12. Just discovered your blog today. It is so helpful. You go beyond just listing the milestones and explain what they are about. It has really put my mind at ease about my 19 month old son who only has a dozen words (4 of which revolve around Dora the Explorer) but uses them in the right context and with the appropriate tone and inflections. As long as we continue to see growth and evolution, I won’t stress as much about the word count. Thanks for sharing your professional knowledge in an open forum. Really helps those of us who use “Dr. Google” too much. ;-)

  13. I have a 19 month old that only babbles ‘dadada’ and makes noises. That is it. I am extremely concerned because my daughter at this age was already carrying on complete conversations with us. I know I should not compare the two, but my son has me worried. He was an early walker (9 months) and is extremely active. I spoke to his doctor at the 18 month appointment and they seemed to think he was developing fine to just wait it out. He does point but I am guilty of answering a lot of his needs before he asks them to be met (feeding when it’s time to eat a meal instead of when he’s crying for food, etc.). Should I get him evaluated? Thx!

  14. I’m so happy to have found this site and will spend some time exploring it and hopefully can help my son speak more.
    He is 4 years and 3 months, currently being assessed for ASD. He is very intelligent, can read, write, spell, count (over 100 and backwards from 100) and do basic math. I’ve never actually sat and taught him these things, as in made an effort, he just absorbs it all! And seems to have the ability to just KNOW!
    That aside, his speech and language isn’t great, I’d average him around 18 months. He doesn’t tell us things like ” today at lunch I played with so-and-so.” But he does come out and tell me “I didn’t winned.” Which I now know means he didn’t finish 1 st at lunch. And that’s VERY expressive for him. It’s mostly “I not like it.” Or “I not eat that.” A lot of third person talk too. It’s shocking when he has moments of clarity and speaks a sentence!
    I am currently about to pick him up from school, and head to my mothers, he will say to me “go nonies?” Or maybe “we go nonies?” (Nonie is what he calls my mum/ his grandma). I find it sad that he is so very smart, yet unable to fully communicate.
    The school is working on this, and we will be seeing a speech and language therapist again in the new year.
    And December we may have a ASD diagnosis, fingers crossed.
    To anyone worried about their child, remember that they differ so much, but always go with your gut instinct, it’s better to ask and be told youre just a worrier, than worry and not know. . . .much love

  15. Hi, I have just read your post and thought is was really great. Do you have any advice for mamas with children who pick up language really quickly? My daughter has a vocabulary of several hundred words and is speaking in quite long sentences for her age (e.g. This moaning it was “Daddy take ‘dd’s name’ walk to park see girls”). She is 18 months. She is also picking up some words in French and Spanish and retaining them. Her memory is scarily good and she can recall events and describe them when they happened Weeks ago.
    I really don’t know how to best nurture this or how to go about helping her as it seems most language things are for older kids. She also counts to 11, know all her colours and some shapes.
    I would really appreciate any tips or any help you can give me.
    Thanks.
    Sammie

  16. Good evening , I just finished reading your article which i found though the brilliant site that is pinterest.
    My daughter is 19 months old and i feel she not really developing speech wise.She say daddie , hi and what sounds like one,two,three,four when climbing the steps on her slide but in struggling to teach her new words .
    She still babbles alot is that normal for her age or is it something i should be concerned about ? Xx

  17. Hi my son is 21months old. He says a total of 20 clear words. An can say three phrases which is byebye, all gone an uh-oh… He understands more than he says though! I can tell him to throw things in the trash, put his dishes in the sink an does exactly that! I wanted to know should I be worried that he doesn’t say more words?

    • Hi Raven, when it comes to speech & language development, we have to look at the whole child and not just the number of words he can say, to determine if he/she may need some help along. We have to look at how he uses those words, how he uses non verbal communication (such as gestures, facial expressions, eye contact, etc), and his overall development. Because of this, it is impossible for me to know if your child is on track. If you are concerned, I recommend getting a screening from a speech pathologist to ease your mind. Good luck!

  18. Hi, great blog! I am here, of course, because I have some concerns about my daughter. She is 21 months old and knows how to say about 20 words (some more pronounced than others). However, I noticed that many of the words, she expresses as sounds. For example, I’ll say cow and she’ll say moo, I’ll say duck and she’ll say quack. I’ll say cat and she’ll say meow. I’m not asking her about the animal sounds but she won’t repeat the words. The other concern is she will insist on calling both of her brothers Henry even though one is Henry and one is Charlie. She will not even attempt to repeat. Sometimes, it looks like she’s repeating but she’ll still say Henry not Charlie (or even something close to it). It seems like she says and hears something different. She also tends to use the same sound for a number of things. We are bilingual. We’re teaching her how to speak Polish but she hears her brothers speak English all the time. We can’t get them to stop. She hears us speak English sometimes when we’re on the phone etc. My eldest son developed regularly, my younger son almost spoke fluently by the age of 20 months. At 18 months he was able to sing a 4-verse song or say a 4-verse prayer. All my daughter can repeat at this age is “Amen”. Should I be concerned? I just want to say that she’s a great communicator but it’s all faces, sounds such as ooohhh with a variety of intonations. She points to pretty much anything you ask her so she knows the words. She follows many commands and if she doesn’t know it, she picks up really quickly. She’s just very reluctant to repeat words.

    • Hi Kelly, welcome! It sounds like your daughter has a lot of great skills! It is hard to know if her reluctance to repeat words is really an issue without seeing her in person. If you are concerned I would recommend getting her screened by an SLP to ease your mind. Good luck!

  19. Hello our son is 21months old he doesnt speak a single word just makes
    Sounds but follows all other instructions likegettin this climbing stairs is it normal

    • Hi there, by 21 months old I’d want your child to have many words, so hearing that he is not speaking any words is concerning. I would try to get him in for an assessment by an SLP to see how you may be able to help him along. Good luck!

  20. Can u please tell what is slp what do u think it can be
    Please advice

  21. Hi, my son is 17 months and has about 10 words. He understands a lot more. My concern is that sometimes, when he is busy with something, he has no reaction when I call him. Should I be worried?he imitates everything, started to feed the toys. Tbanks

  22. meagan frederick says:

    We have a 18 month old and he just says mama and dada is this normal

  23. I just recently found your site and am grateful for the information. We have my 22-mo old son in speech therapy twice a month and also weekly visits with a behavior specialist through the state’s Help Me Grow Program. He’s been evaluated by a couple different agencies and each ones says he is not on the ASD but he does have a significant language delay. At 18 months he was diagnosed at 9 months language. Starting at 6-9 months he consistently babbled and he even said Dada and Mama and his one word “good”. By 20 months he lost all his babbling and his sole word. Now he grunts or whines or squeals to communicate, or takes our hands and leads us to what he needs. He has been picking up sign language rapidly lately which I see as progress but he still doesn’t really point to what he wants. I guess my question is why do some children have language regression, and what is the prognosis for a child like mine? Will he ever speak, and if so, what age can I expect that? I know every child is different. Thank you.

    • Hi Mindy,

      Unfortunately, we do not always know the cause of delays or regressions. As far as prognosis….again that is impossible for me to say, especially without working with your child. What I find useful for projecting possible prognoses is 1) Doing a very thorough assessment including gathering as much information on the child as possible from pregnancy on (including family history and relevant medical history) and 2) working with the child for several months to see how the child is learning and generalizing new skills. The combination of past and present knowledge can help write goals and plan and implement the best treatment possible.

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