All parents eagerly wait for their baby’s first words. However, while every child learns at his or her own pace, it is important to be familiar with general speech milestones and language development. These milestones build on each other, giving a child a path for developing cognition, social interaction, motor coordination and adaptive skills.
The guide below is meant to help parents understand normal speech and language development, and should serve only as a starting point for a conversation with your family’s doctor. You can help your child’s progress by encouraging their speech and language skills through reading, playing and talking together.
It may be time to talk to your child’s doctor if your child hasn’t mastered most of the speech and language development milestones for his or her age. Speech delays are caused by a variety of things, and your doctor will be able to refer you to the appropriate specialist.
Typical Speech Milestones: Age One
At this age, a child will typically start to imitate words and even say a few familiar words, but the sounds will not always be familiar (e.g., dada, mama, uh-oh). He or she will likely understand simple instructions, and may turn and look at the direction of sounds. The recognition of one's own name and the names of common items (e.g. juice, car, book) are also speech milestones at this age.
Typical Speech Milestones: Age Two
By the age of two, children will likely understand the meaning of "no," and have a general vocabulary of 50-100 words, including names. They may be able to combine two different words, such as "daddy bye-bye" or “more juice,” and make the sounds of familiar animals. Two-year-olds also usually are able to ask for common foods by name, use pronouns (such as "mine") and continue to learn how to say more words as each month passes.
Typical Speech Milestones: Age Three
At age three, most children are able to speak in a way that can be understood by familiar listeners, and start to ask questions like "what's that?" or "where's my...?" They tend to use two-word negative phrases (such as "no want"), and can form some plurals by adding an "s" to the end of words. They also will talk to other children and adults, and will be able to name common pictures and objects.
Another milestone at this age comes in the form of problem solving. Rather than crying or hitting when there's an issue, three-year-olds are more likely to use words to express their problems.
It's important to note that while these are the typical speech milestones for ages 1-3, the fact that your child may not be hitting these milestones does not necessarily mean he or she is falling behind in development. However, if your child appears to miss multiple speech milestones, you may want to work with a Speech Language Pathologist.