Babies and Toddlers5 MINUTE READ

Speech and Language Milestones for Toddlers (12-24 Months)

Plenty of exciting milestones happen during the second year of your child's life, ages 12 to 24 months.

Your 1-year-old progresses from baby to toddler pretty quickly! This year is a period of rapid growth, maturity, and brain development.

However, this big leap in language abilities and vocabulary expansion doesn't happen overnight. And it certainly doesn’t happen on its own. There are many foundational verbal and nonverbal skills that build upon each other throughout your baby's second year. It's important for parents to know each of these milestones in order to tell if your toddler is progressing at a level appropriate for their age.

In this article, we cover all the details about the receptive and expressive language skills that happen between ages 12 and 24 months. Receptive language skills refer to how well your child comprehends language. Expressive language refers to how well they use language to express their needs, wants, and ideas.  

Receptive language skills (12-18 months)

  • Responding to their name: Close to or shortly after your child's 1st birthday, you should notice that they begin responding to their own name. This is a big milestone! In addition, they should respond even if their attention is already focused on something else. These responses should happen regularly, not just once in awhile. Consistently responding shows your baby has a good grasp of this skill.

  • Simple directions: During the first half of your child's second year,  they should also begin demonstrating the ability to follow simple one-step directions. This can be things like, “Come here,” “Sit down,” “Give me _____.” When your child is able to follow simple instructions, it is a very good sign that their comprehension abilities are right on track.

  • Play activities: As a general rule, your child should be able to engage in some kind of a play activity for at least 1-2 minutes before switching tasks. This focus of attention allows for more verbalization opportunities. Reading books is a perfect example. Your child should be able to sit long enough to engage with you and the book. They may even begin pointing to pictures in the book when asked. When playing a simple game, like a puzzle or toy cars, your child should also interact long enough to facilitate some back and forth interaction before moving on to the next activity.

  • Playing with objects: In this stage, your child should begin to play with and use objects appropriately. For example, they may hold a phone up to their ear, place a hairbrush on their head, or pretend to drink from a toy cup. As your child begins to use objects for their intended purpose, it means that more imaginative and pretend play skills that are just around the corner.

Expressive language skills (12-18 months)

  • Shaking head for "yes" and "no": Once your child is around 13 to 18 months, you should begin to see them shaking their head "yes" or "no" when asked a question. Simple questions like, "Do you want your juice?" or "Do you need help?" should get a response from your child. Remember, they don't have to say "yes" or "no," but they should at least use a head shake to respond. You can also be on the lookout for spontaneous head shaking. If you give your toddler green beans for dinner, you may see a quick head shake for "no," even if you didn't ask if they wanted the green beans! As cute and funny as this is, it's also a great sign of expressive language growth.

  • Spontaneous utterances: Children learn to imitate the sounds and words you say before producing them on their own. While toddlers should still be imitating new words, they should also begin to say words spontaneously as well. Independent use of these words should happen pretty consistently. For example, a toddler should be able to say something like “Milk!” when thirsty, or “Ball!” when they want to play. This helps toddlers begin to make the connection that communication is key to getting what they want.  

  • Consonant sounds: Your toddler should also start to use several different consonant sounds in their words or babbles at this stage. The earliest developing sounds include /b/ /p/ /m/ /n/ and /d/. Children in this age range should be able to produce most of these consonants by themselves.

Receptive language skills (18-24 months)

  • Comprehension skills: Between the ages of 18 and 24 months, your child should undergo a big jump in their comprehension abilities. Children should be able to understand at least 50 different words spoken to them. They may not be able to say all of these words, but they should at least comprehend them. You can observe this by watching how your child responds to simple directions. Another way to gauge their comprehension is to determine how well they identify objects. A toddler should be able to point to most common objects during this stage when you label them.

  • Carrying out two-step related directions: An example would be “Please go to the table and bring me the cup.” Toddlers this age should also begin to complete two-step directions that are unrelated, such as “Throw the ball and clap your hands.”

  • Playing appropriately: This time in your child's life should be filled with many play activities. You will begin seeing your child start to play more appropriately with items. For example, your child should use two objects together. This could be simple things like pretending to mix a spoon in a bowl, or giving a baby doll a bottle. Similarly, you should see your child start to use objects toward themselves and others. Your toddler may pretend to feed you or brush your hair.

  • Asking for help: Once your child is around 19 to 24 months old, you should begin hearing them use words to tell you they need help--even if it's simply the word "help." Before you were probably trying to guess what they needed, but toddlers at this age can typically use words to communicate this.

Expressive language skills (18-24 months)

  • More vocabulary: By 18-24 months, your child should have at least 5-10 words that they use regularly and spontaneously. It is likely that they will have more vocabulary in their word bank. They should also continue to readily imitate words as well. Even if your child is using 5-10 words at this stage, it's still recommended that you speak with a speech therapist if you're not seeing continuing signs of growth.  

  • Consonant-vowel combinations: Some examples of simple words your child may use to make verbal requests include, “More,” “Help,” “Eat,” “Go,” etc. When your child imitates or uses words, there are different combinations of consonants and vowels you may hear. For example, you may hear a consonant-vowel production (CV production), as in “Go” or even an approximation of the word boat as “bo.” You may also hear consonant-vowel-consonant-vowel productions (CVCV productions), like “wawa” for water. And finally, you may even hear some emerging consonant-vowel-consonant productions (CVC productions) like “pop” or “mom.” As your child grows, their word approximations will begin sounding more and more like true words.

  • Two-word phrases: There's a chance that some toddlers in this age range will begin to use very simple two word phrases, like “I want,” “Give me,” or “More please.” Although it's not required at this stage, some toddlers do begin exhibiting this skill at an early age. Most children will meet this goal at, or just past, the age 2 years old.

You can help your child talk more

If there's one thing every caregiver should know about promoting and increasing their child’s language skills, it's this: Talk and play together--every day! The time spent investing in your child’s development is priceless. Not to mention, it can be a lot of fun for both of you! Learning to communicate is a big job for such little kids. Just knowing what to watch for will help them achieve and exceed necessary communication skills.

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