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Language development in toddlers and preschoolers

Are your worried about your child’s language development? Does your 24 month old only have a few words? Keep reading to find out what to do.

Before I became a homeschooling mom, I was a speech-language pathologist, aka speech therapist. As an undergraduate in the Communication Disorders program, I was required to take a language development class before doing any course work related to language disorders or delays.

The idea was that a speech therapist needed to fully know and understand the normal development of language throughout infancy and childhood before she could recognize when that development had gotten off track to turn into a delay or disorder.

And just for fun, I also took several extra child development and developmental psychology classes.

So you’d think with all of those classes and training AND being a licensed speech-language pathologist that I wouldn’t need outside professional advice when it came to my oldest son’s speech and language development.

But I did.

What I’m trying to say is: ditch the mom guilt if you are having doubts or concerns about your own child’s speech and language development!!

I think that as parents, we sometimes don’t really notice changes or even the absence of changes that should be occurring because we see our children every day. That’s why the grandparents visit and exclaim, “Oh, look how tall you’ve gotten!” –-they haven’t seen your child in 2 months, so the change is really remarkable to them.

My mom fail

When my oldest son was 22 months old, he only had a verbal (or expressive) vocabulary of about 5 words: mom, dad, dog, more and ah-oh.

We had taught him some sign language, so he knew lots of signs like “all done” and “shoes” which really helped his frustration level.

And his understanding (receptive language) was terrific; he could follow directions and could point to items we named all day long.

Then one day, I was visiting with a friend who is also a speech-language pathologist. She politely enquired if I was getting at all worried about my son’s speech and language. Despite her delicately and diplomatically phrased question, I knew that what she really meant was “I think there’s a problem and you better do something now!”

Up until that point, although it had crossed my mind a few times, I had let it slide. I usually told myself one of these excuses:

  • he’s the youngest
  • his sisters talk for him
  • he’s a boy (boy’s do tend to be slower at language development and faster at gross motor skills)
  • and the classic, “I’ll think about it tomorrow, right now, what’s for supper?”

I called the very next day to set up an appointment for an evaluation at the local university Speech and Hearing Clinic.

Language milestones

I’ve listed some of the most common language milestones for toddlers and preschoolers age 12 months to 4 years below.

Read them and see if your kiddo meets most of the milestones for their age.

SIDENOTE: Language is the words we use and understand; speech is the sounds we use in our words. If you are worried about your child’s speech production–how they say the sounds, read this article about typical speech development and speech delays.

toddler language delay

Here are some of the language development milestones that you should look for in your child’s development.

Get a printable chart of developmental language milestones as a handy reference guide, free for subscribers in the Free Resource Library

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    12 months old

    Responds to their name.

    Responds when you say “no”

    Uses gestures such as pointing and showing.

    May speak one or more words although they may not be clear.

    Follow simple requests with gestures (“Come here”).


    15 months old

    Mostly uses gestures and sounds.

    Babbles strings of sounds together that almost sounds like real words.

    Has a 4-6 word vocabulary


    18 months old

    Has a vocabulary of 10-20 words.

    Begins to use two words together

    Points to some body parts when asked.

    Follows simple commands (“Give me the ball”).


    2 years old

    Has a vocabulary between 150-300 words.

    Uses words more than gestures to communicate

    Uses short 2 word phrases

    Points to objects or pictures in a book when named

    Learns a few new words each week.

    Understands simple questions

    Uses pronouns: me and it.


    3 years old

    1,000 word vocabulary

    Answers yes/no questions

    Uses simple 2 to 3 word sentences

    Uses some regular plurals

    Uses some pronouns

    Uses the prepositions in, on, and under.

    Uses -ing and -ed endings, although not always correctly

    answer some simple “what” and “where” questions.

    Follows simple two-step commands


    4 years old

    Asks lots of questions. Lots and lots of questions!

    Uses 4 to 5 word sentences.

    Most regular verbs, pronouns and plurals are used correctly.

    Can retell short stories and recent past events with a beginning, middle, and end.

    language development in young children

    When in doubt, ask for advice.

    If your child isn’t able to do most of the items listed for his or her age, ask your spouse or a trusted friend if they agree with your concerns. If they do, don’t hesitate to get some professional guidance regarding your child’s language development.

    Most speech-language pathologists are happy to give your child a 5-minute free screening to see if an evaluation is even needed. Waiting to see if they “grow out of it” could result in a less positive outcome.

    Reading and writing are a part of language and if your child struggles with the verbal expression of language, those academic skills are also going to be more difficult. On the other hand, there really isn’t a downside to getting some extra help through language therapy.

    Other helpful resources to check out:

    Read about typical Speech development in children and what to do if you think your child has some speech errors HERE.

    ASHA’s Typical Speech and Language Development Page

    Pin this post so you can check back later to make sure your child’s language is still on track.

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