Toddlerhood is a fabulously fun time for language development. Toddlers are learning new words a mile a minute—and understanding most of what they hear! Like adorable, walking, talking parrots, you’ll notice your toddler repeating back what you just said or words from their favorite songs (“You’re Welcome!”).

Parents play an important role in encouraging their child’s language and communication skills.

We say, take advantage of this time!

Baby Talk

Language development begins at birth and blossoms throughout their infancy as you read and talk to them, as well as tell them stories.

By the time they are 12 months old, toddlers understand about 10 words. By their 3rd birthday, that number is closer to 800 words! In between that time, toddlers are working hard to communicate with us—in both the words they can speak and what they can understand.

So what can you do to help support your toddler’s language development?

Language, like other areas of development, has a wide range of what is typical for each age. Let’s first look at some common language milestones by age group:

12 months:

  • Has a consistent word he uses for “Mama,” etc.  
  • Points to something he wants.
  • Responds to one-step instructions: “Walk to Mama.”

15 months:

  • Understands more than 24 words.
  • Babbles more recognizable words.
  • Uses clear gestures.

18 months:

  • Uses 6 to 12 words.
  • Names objects and special people: “Cat,” “Toy,” “Pa.”
  • Repeats last word of parents’ sentences.

24 months:

  • Starts to combine words: “Mama home,” “Read book.”
  • Understands up to 300 words.
  • Can follow more complex instructions: “Give the book to your brother.”

Can You Hear Me Now?

As an adult, you know how frustrating it can be to talk to someone who isn’t listening. Toddlers feel the same way. When they have something to say, get down at their level and listen. It might just be the most important thing you hear all day!

Tell Me About It!

Toddlers love to be talked to—tell them everything! While our day-to-day activities (like washing dishes or wiping down counters) aren’t very interesting to us, toddlers love to hear about what we are doing and how we do it. This is also a great time to name items around the house or in the grocery store: “I am washing the fork and spoon with bubbly soap.” Think of yourself as a sportscaster, giving your toddler a play-by-play.

It’s OK to repeat yourself. Toddlers need to hear a word several times before they remember it: “Let’s read a book. . . let’s pick out a book. . . I like that book you picked!”

Offering your toddler options is another great way to expand their vocabulary. While holding up the two items, ask: “Do you want to eat cheese or crackers?”

What’s That You Say?

Keep the conversation going by asking open-ended questions rather than ones that have a “yes or no” response: “Where is your truck driving? I like the truck’s scooper. What does the truck scoop up?”

If your toddler is not yet able to answer these questions (which is OK!), you can support this language skill by talking about your child’s play. As you watch your toddler play, comment on what they are doing: “The green train is going to the train station. The train says ‘Choo, Choo!’ You are driving the train very fast!”

Words of Wisdom

Not all toddlers develop language in the same way or at the same rate—even how they learn can vary with some toddlers learning in “spurts” while others learn at a slower, steady pace. If you are concerned about a possible speech delay, talk with your pediatrician or an early intervention specialist. You could also complete a developmental screening online at In the meantime, keep talking with your child and read together at least once per day. Visit the Playing With Words 365 website for great book ideas for supporting language development.

For more activities to encourage speech and language development, visit the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.


This article is brought to you by Parenting Now! Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis and Lynne Swartz and consultant Jay Thompson (  Parenting Now! is passionate about happy, healthy families. For more information about Parenting Now! please visit their website ( or contact us at

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