When will my child talk?

Language is a development process and each step builds on the previous step.  A child begins to communicate at birth through the use of cries.  Typically, a caregiver can distinguish cries that indicate hunger, pain, tired, and frustration.  As a child grows, he/she begins to develop sounds.  The first sounds produced are   uttered from the “back of the throat”.  Eventually, a child will begin to babble (e.g. mamamama, dadadada, bababa).  These sounds are all very similar (i.e. repeated sounds).  Babbling is shaped into simple words.  As simple words emerge, a child produces jargon.  Jargon means a child is producing sounds that seem to portray the intonation of a sentence and have meaning but the child is using non-sensible words.  Again, each step during language development builds upon each other.

According to James D. MacDonald, Ph.D, a child is ready to talk when he/she does the following:

  • Plays with people, interacts frequently with people, imitates others’ actions, imitates others’ sounds, takes turns in play, practices making many sounds by himself, communicates with movements, plays meaningfully with things, responds to speech, prefers being with people to being alone, and plays more of an active than passive role.

How many words should my child have…

According to the Child Development Institute (www.childdevelopmentinfo.com), Nicolosi, Harryman, & Kreshneck (2006), and Owens (1996):


Age Approximate Words in Expressive Vocabulary:

12 months

2-6 words (other than mama and dada)

15 months

10 words

18 months

50 words

24 months

200-300 words

30 months

450 words

36 months

1,000 words

48 months

1,600 words

60 months

2,200-2,500 words


If you’re uncertain that your child is using an ample vocabulary, please first consider if and how much your child uses gestures to communicate.  A gesture is categorized into two different groups, early gestures and late gestures.  According to a study published as McArthur Bates Communicative Development Inventories:  Words and Gestures protocol:


  • Early gestures are characterized by extending an arm to show something, reaching out to give an object, pointing, waving bye-bye, extending arms up to be picked up, shakes head no/yes, gestures hush, requests something by extending his arms, blows kisses, smacks lips for yum yum, and shrugs shoulders to indicate all gone or where’d it go?.  At this stage, a child should be participating in games such as peek-a-boo, patty cake, chase games, singing and dancing.


  • Later gestures include, but are not limited to, the following: pouring something into a container, putting a telephone to their ear, putting on socks/shoes, wiping face/hands, putting on a hat, eating with a spoon or fork, brushing hair, playing sleeping, pushing a car, throwing a ball, pretending to be a parent to a doll or animal (e.g. putting to bed, covering with a blanket, feeding with a bottle/spoon, patting, rocking, hugging, kissing, wiping, talking, and placing a diaper on the toy), or imitating adult actions (e.g. typing on a computer, clearing, washing, driving a car, sweeping, putting a key in the door, putting on glasses) .


Am I the only one who understands my child?


Although, your child may have several words in their vocabulary, they should be intelligible to a familiar (close family members and friends who spend a lot of time with the child) and unfamiliar (someone who does not spend much time with the child-e.g. the store clerk, the grandmother that visits every 3 months, etc.) listeners in all contexts/environments (e.g. home, park, friend’s home, daycare/preschool) (Pena-Brooks & Hedge, 2007):

Age Intelligibility Level


19-24 months


24- 36 months


36 -60 months


60 months +



What will be my child’s first words?


Children begin to use words in their immediate environment.  Most likely, a child will respond to  prompts urging him or her to “Say _____”; however, if they do not understand the meaning of that word, they will not independently use the word appropriately and in context.  Learning language is similar to learning a new language.    Someone fluent in Russian may bombard a student with the new vocabulary, but without repetition and an understanding of the word meaning, the lesson would be ineffective.  However, an image of a dog accompanying the word “Собака (sa-ba-ka), used repeatedly will readily assist a person learning the Russian word for “dog.” A child needs repetition and multiple examples to help learn language and then use language.   When beginning to produce words, typically, a childstarts to learn and use nouns before he/she will start to learn and use verbs.

According to researchers from the Child Study Institute1 at Bryan Mawr College, a toddler should have the following 25 common words to help build their vocabulary:


all gone, baby, ball, banana, bath, bye, bye, book, car, cat, cookie, daddy, dog, eye, hat, hello/hi, hot juice milk, mommy, more, no, nose, shoe, thank you, and yes.


According to Laura Mize (2008), taken from (http://teachmetotalk.com), a child’s first 100 words are the following:




ball, book, choochoo, train, bike, rain, bubbles, car, truck, boat, plane, baby, bowl, spoon, diaper, sock, shoe, shirt, pants, hat, star, flower, house, tree, brush, towel, bath, chair, table, bed, blanket, light, cookie, cracker, chip, cheese, apple, banana, ice cream, cereal (Cheerios/ “O’s”), candy, milk, juice, water, dog, cat, fish, bird, duck, cow, horse, bunny, bear, pig, lion, elephant, giraffe, zebra, monkey, chicken, butterfly, bee, frog, alligator, snake   *As well as familiar people names – Mama, Dada, brother and sister names, pet names, grandparents & other family members, and favorite characters such as Elmo, Dora, Diego, etc…


Common Action Words (Verbs) eat, drink, go, stop, run, jump, walk, sleep/night-night, wash, kiss, open, close, push, pull, fix, broke, play, want, hug, love, hurt, tickle, give (”gimme”), all gone, all done, dance, help, fall, shake, see, watch, look, sit, stand (up), throw, catch, blow, cry, throw, swing, slide, climb, ride, rock, come (”C’mon”), color/draw      
Location Words (Prepositions) up, down, in, out, off, on, here, there (Plus later ones such as around, under, behind, over at/after age 3)
Descriptive Words (Adjectives/Adverbs) big, little, hot, cold, loud, quiet, yucky, icky, scary, funny, silly, dirty, clean, gentle, wet, soft, fast, slow, color words (red, blue, yellow, green, pink, orange, purple, black, white, brown) and quantity words (all, none, more, some, rest, plus early number words – especially 1, 2, 3) 
Early Pronouns me, mine, my, I, you, it (Then toward age 3 the gender pronouns such as he, she, him, her )
Social Function Words more, please, thank you, hi/hello, bye-bye, again, sorry, uh-oh, yes/uh-huh/okay, no/uh-uh 


Although, this may seem like too much information, when children are learning language, remember to keep it SIMPLE!  As a child learns to independently produce a word on a consistent basis, begin to model a short, simple phrase.  As the child uses a variety of words from the aforementioned categories (e.g. nouns, verbs, prepositions, adjectives/adverbs, early pronouns, and social function words) begin to expect more words.  For instance, if a child will consistently tell you go as you leave the room, the house, the store, etc. and will also use the word car when the child is playing with a car, sees a car, wants a car, etc., then model the phrase object+action (car go)/action+object (go car).  This is a simple phrase that as the child builds his vocabulary and language skills may begin to add additional words.  As parents, we may sometimes forget to acknowledge our child’s language; first, acknowledge your child’s response/comment by repeating the word or phrase and then expand on his thought with concrete language.  Remember, a child uses the language he/she hears.

Who can help me?

If you find yourself worried or you want to seek additional help, you are not alone.  There are times that a child may seem behind his peers or siblings. if this is the case and you are not certain what to do, or if there is a problem, please do not hesitate to seek guidance from a professional who may  assist you with any questions and concerns that you may have about your child’s speech and language.  For more information, contact Child Success Center at 310-899-9597.

Child Success Center
2023 S. Westgate Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Call 310-899-9597 to access our “warm” line.
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