It’s exciting when your growing little love’s coos become babbles. But charting your toddler’s speech and language development may have you curious about how to recognize speech and language delays.

Defining Speech & Language

While speech and language are certainly connected, they’re not the same; these terms shouldn’t be used interchangeably. Language is the words we use and how we use them to communicate – verbally, nonverbally and written. Speech is how we say words and sounds.1

Speech & Language Development Hallmarks

As your little one grows, these are the typical speech and language development hallmarks they’ll achieve:.2,3

By Three Months

  • Coos
  • Smiles when they see you or other loved ones
  • Recognizes your voice or the voice of other loved ones
  • Responds to speech by smiling or making noises
  • Differentiates their cries depending on need

By Six Months

  • Makes a variety of sounds whether alone or with someone
  • Notices sounds and points eyes in their direction
  • Notices music
  • Responds to changes in tone of voice
  • Makes different sounds to indicate like and dislike (crying versus laughing)

By One Year

  • Says a few words such as “mama” and “dada”
  • Imitates sounds made by others
  • Turns body to seek out origin of sounds
  • Can match words to objects
  • Understands simple directions like “stop” or “sit”

By 18 Months

  • Knows the name of loved ones, some body parts, and day-to-day objects
  • Follows simple directions
  • May have as many as 10 words

By Two Years

  • May have as many as 50 words or more
  • Asks for foods by name
  • Makes animal sounds, like “woof” or “moo”
  • Starts to use pronouns, like “me” an “you”
  • Strings words together for phrases and questions
  • Can follow simple directions and answer simple questions
  • Speaks clearly enough for those closest to understand at least 50 percent of the time

Signs of Speech & Language Development Delays in Toddlers

Just as important as knowing what milestones your toddler should a hit is knowing the possible signs of speech and language delays:1

  • At One Year: Your little one isn’t using gestures when it seems natural to do so, such as responding to waving or pointing to objects they want.
  • At 18 Months: No consistent words or difficulty responding to or imitating words.
  • At Two Years: Has begun imitating words but doesn’t say them on their own spontaneously. The inability to make word combinations. Difficult time following verbal directions or being understood by immediate family.

Possible Causes of Toddler Speech & Language Development Delays

There can be several causes for language or speech delays in your little one:1

  • Physical oral impairment. This can include problems with the tongue or roof of the mouth, including a short frenulum (the fold under the tongue)—often referred to as being “tongue tied.”
  • Oral-motor problems. These occur when the speech center of the brain has a problem that causes difficulty coordinating movements of the lips and tongue to make words.
  • Difficulty hearing. Whether congenital or caused by chronic ear infections or other illness, difficulty hearing can lead to difficulty speaking.

Remember, only a doctor can diagnose the cause of speech or language delays. Please see your healthcare provider if you have concerns about your child’s speech or language.

Earlier intervention leads to better outcomes for speech and language delays.