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Understanding language is far more important to your toddler than actually speaking it. Once they really understand, they will communicate with you. Your toddler’s first words are almost always labels (ie: names for people, animals) or other things that are important to them.

As a toddler, your child will have a language explosion – they will understand more than they say, but they will imitate everything they hear, learn new words every day, start putting words together into short sentences and want to talk to you all the time!

The following are guidelines, taken from a number of sources. They will help you know what to expect and encourage next with your child’s language development, or when to consider a referral to an Infant Development Consultant or speech language therapist. It does not include everything and it is important to remember that there is variation in children’s language development.

Milestones for your toddler at 12-18 months:

  • Recognizes his or her name
  • Understands “no”
  • Understands simple instructions
  • Points and gestures to call attention to an event or to show what they want
  • Imitates (copies) familiar words
  • Waves good-bye and plays Pat-a-Cake
  • Uses “mama” and “dada” and several other words, usually names of objects or people
  • Attempts to communicate by mixing jargon with real words (e.g. babbling that sounds like real words)
  • Vocalizes for enjoyment
  • Points to show you something
  • Points to a few body parts when asked, ie: “Where’s your mouth?”
  • Imitates animal sounds
  • Begins to show sense of humour
  • Plays best on their own; doesn’t want to share toys with others, shouting “mine, mine!”

Red Flags:

  • Does not respond consistently to their being called by name
  • Does not respond to familiar sounds (phone ringing)
  • Does not look at or point to objects and pictures when named
  • Does not show or give objects spontaneously
  • Does not start a turn taking game (i.e. lifts up their blanket for peek-a-boo)
  • Does not direct others' attention to something by pointing or making eye contact
  • Does not use consonant + vowel combinations that others recognize as words, even if they are mispronounced
  • Has fewer than 10 words

Milestones for your toddler at 18-24 (1½ - 2 years):

  • Uses 10 - 20 different words
  • Starts to combine 2 words (e.g. baby sleep)
  • Uses words to make needs and wants known, like "more", "up", "juice"
  • Imitates sounds and words more clearly
  • Points to objects and/or uses gestures to show or direct attention to something
  • Points to own toes, eyes and nose
  • Brings an object from another room when asked (follows 1-part directions)
  • Sings simple songs
  • Mixes real words and jargon
  • Practices words over and over on thier own (e.g. while playing in their bed etc.)

Red Flags:

  • Does not understand verbal instructions without needing gestures
  • Does not copy (imitate) words frequently
  • Does not sit for 5 minutes of book reading
  • Does not add gestures if their words are not understood by others
  • Does not say at least 20 - 50 words
  • Does not say a few 2 - word or 3 - word combinations

Milestones for your toddler at 24-30 months (2 - 2 ½ years):

  • Understands simple questions and commands
  • Identifies many body parts
  • Carries on “conversation” with self and dolls
  • Asks “what’s this?”, “what’s that?”, and “where’s my…”
  • Sentence length of 2–3 words ( ie: “more juice” or “want cookie”)
  • Names pictures and actions
  • Refers to self by name
  • Uses 2 – word negative phrases such as “no want”, “not go” or “no right”
  • Forms some plurals by adding “s” (e.g. books)
  • Asks for a drink or snack
  • Has about 200 spoken words in their vocabulary

Red Flags:

  • Does not follow verbal instructions without needing gestures
  • Does not add gestures to help get their meaning across when they have not been understood
  • Does not understand more complex sentences (When….then)
  • Frequently “echoes” words
  • Does not use at least 100 words
  • Is not saying some 2 and 3- word combinations
  • Language development seems “stuck”

Milestones for your toddler at 30-36 months (2 ½ - 3 years):

  • Uses about 450 words
  • Can give first name when asked
  • Uses past tense (e.g. "ed" endings) and plurals (e.g. "s" endings) (not always correctly)
  • Combines names of things with action words ie: baby sleep
  • Understands simple time concepts such as “last night” and “tomorrow”
  • Refers to self as “me” or "I" instead of by name
  • Uses their words to get adult attention ie: "watch me!"
  • Likes to hear the same story over and over again
  • Uses “no” or “not” in their speech
  • Talks to other children as well as adults
  • Answers “where” questions
  • Uses short sentences to tell what he/she has just done or wants to do ie: “me do it” or “me want to jump”
  • Matches 3-4 colors
  • Knows the words “big” and “little”
  • Holds up fingers to tell age

Red Flags:

  • Vocabulary does not seem to be growing
  • Not interested in talking with or playing with adults or other children
  • Don’t show any pretend play skills (e.g. feeding a doll)
  • Not putting words into 2-3 word sentences
  • Not matching colors or pictures
  • Cannot give their name when asked
  • Does not understand the concept of big / little
  • Does not use “no” to reject something or protest
  • Not using words to get an adult’s attention
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