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Your toddler doesn’t learn to talk all at once—it’s a process that starts as soon as you welcome them into the world. Learn more about when babies start learning to talk and how that blossoms into chatty toddlerhood with this overview.

 

When Do Toddlers Learn to Talk?

Like acquiring any skill, it’ll take time for your toddler to learn to talk—of course, it won’t all happen at once. Your toddler has been slowly learning to talk since birth. No matter where you are on the timeline of when babies learn to talk, here are things you can do to give your little one a head start.1

 

Teaching Talking from Birth to Three Months

  • Teach by example—talk and sing to your baby

  • Provide quiet time that’s only for talking—turn off distractions like TV and music

Teaching Talking from Three to Six Months

  • Parrot your baby—repeat any sounds and babbles back to them and repeat again if they make the same sound once more.

  • Make sure to make eye contact while you speak to your little one—and when they babble back to you.

Teaching Talking from Six to Nine Months

  • Start narrating if you haven’t already—talk about things you and baby are doing, objects baby is touching, and other actions and items throughout the day.

  • Ask questions—“Where is Daddy?” or “What’s this called?” are perfect because they allow you to follow up with answers if your little doesn’t.

  • Practice getting baby to recognize—and maybe even use—their name by showing their reflection to them, asking, “Who’s that?” and then answering.

  • Sing songs and dance on beat together.

Teaching Talking from Nine Months to One Year

  • Continue everything you’ve already been doing—just encourage more of it. By now your little one likely already understands simple words and demonstrates that.

Tips For Helping Your Toddler Learn to Talk

Once your little one rounds their first birthday and enters toddlerhood, all of the accumulated language and vocabulary acquisition that happened during their first year becomes amplified. They’re starting to say words and are well on the way to even more exciting language skills.1

Here are some tips for continuing to help your toddler learn to talk that build on all the work the two of you have already done together.2

Toddlers & Talking from One Year to 18 Months

  • Correctly repeat words your toddler says incorrectly—without pointing out the mistake.

  • Keep singing and dancing or gesturing along to the beat together—if you can do the actions being sung about, even better.

  • Give your little one lots of choices—it helps build their vocabulary and encourages more chatter.

Toddlers & Talking from 18 Months to 2 Years

  • Repeat words in the course of conversation—“Are you eating an apple?” “Your apple is red.” “Is your apple sweet?” and so on.

  • Start giving your toddler instructions—and expect them to follow through (just make sure to keep them simple and aligned with typical actions they do day-to-day).

  • Quiz with simple questions—“Where’s your tummy?” “Can you point to your nose?” You get the idea.

  • Keep screen time to a minimum—active listening and holding conversations is more valuable to language acquisition.

Toddlers & Talking from 2 Years to 3 Years

  • Coach them to use complete sentences by repeating simple sentence they’ve said back to them in the sentence’s complete, correct form.

  • Narrate actions you do around them and activities you do together—then try engaging them in a discussion about these actions while you two continue performing these actions and activities.

  • Try to consistently use your toddler’s name when trying to get their attention or before asking them a question.

What is Considered a “Late Talker”?

Plenty of parents worry about their little ones’ development, and speech and language development are no different. It’s important to note, though, that “speech” and “language” are two different skills:3

  • Speech is how your toddler says sounds and words

  • Language is about communicating information; it’s the words we use and how to use them to share our thoughts

Typically, a late talker is a toddler between one-and-a-half and two-and-a-half years old whose development is otherwise on track but has language development below age expectations.4

Toddler Speech & Language Milestones

It’s important to keep appropriate language and speech milestones for toddlers in mind before worrying that your toddler is a late talker when it comes to chattering.

Here are the age brackets during which you can reasonably expect your little one to hit common speech and language milestones:5

Between six months and one year

  • Says mama” or “dada” and babbles without meaning

  • Understands “no”

  • Uses gestures to convey meaning

  • Parrots words

  • Says first word—with meaning, rather than babbling sounds that may be words

Between one year and 18 months

  • Can use words to indicate an object or person

  • Imitates the sounds of words

  • Can answer questions using gestures or other body language

  • Knows and says a handful of different words

Between 18 months and two years

  • Has a vocabulary of around 50 words—even though they may not be clear

  • Can make animal sounds

  • Can ask for food they want by name

  • Starting to string words together into two-word phrases

If you find yourself concerned about a speech or language delay with your toddler, please discuss with your health care provider. Early intervention for speech or language disorders is more likely to be effective when provided earlier in life. Here are some symptoms to watch:3

  • At one year, your little one isn’t using gestures to communicate

  • At 18 months:

    • They prefer to use or only use gestures rather than speaking

    • Has a hard time parroting sounds

    • Experiences difficulty following verbal directions

  • At two years:

    • Can only imitate rather than speak spontaneously

    • Uses a few words or phrases over and over and only to address something in the immediate

    • Can’t follow verbal directions

    • Verbalizes with an unusual or unnatural tone of voice (raspy or nasal sounding)

Watching—and helping—your little one reach their language and speech milestones is one of the wondrous, joy-filled parts of early parenthood. Take the time to enjoy the journey, rather than focus too narrowly on how many words your toddler has in their growing vocabulary. Explore other milestones for 12-month-olds, 24-month-old milestones, and milestones beyond to get a well-rounded picture of what other wonders you can keep on the lookout for your little one to display.