The first 3 years of life, when the brain is developing and maturing, is the most intensive period for learning speech and language skills. These skills develop best in a world that is rich with sounds, sights, and consistent exposure to the speech and language of others. Children can develop speech and language skills at slightly different rates; however, they follow a natural timetable for mastering language skills. See below for a checklist of normal speech and language milestones in children from 1 to 2 years of age.
At 1 to 2 years, your child should be able to do the following:
- Listen more actively to simple stories, songs, and rhymes
- Follow 1–2 step commands during play, like "Roll the ball" and "Pick up the block and put it in the bucket"
- Point to several body parts
- Point to pictures in a book when you name them
- Understand the meaning of action words like “eat” and “go”
- Say and understand more and more new words every month; by age 2, use about 50 different words or more
- Ask some 1-word and 2-word questions, such as, "What’s that?”
- Begin to put 2 words together, like "more juice" and "get up"
- Use many different consonant sounds at the beginning of words
- Explore toys and play more creatively
What you can do to help
- Be a good speech model. Do not imitate your child's unclear speech. Correct your child in a positive way by rephrasing, repeating, and relabeling.
- Talk about what you are doing and what you see. When taking a walk, point to familiar objects (cars, trees, and birds) and say their names. "I see a dog. The dog says ‘woof.’" Use simple but correct grammar that is easy for your child to imitate.
- Take a sound walk around your house or in your child's room. Introduce her to Timmy Clock, who says "t-t-t-t." Listen to the clock as it ticks. Find Mad Kitty Cat who bites her lip and says "f-f-f-f" or Vinnie Airplane who bites his lip, turns his voice motor on and says "v-v-v-v." These sounds will be old friends when your child starts to learn phonics in preschool and kindergarten.
- Make bath time "sound play time" as well. You are down on your child’s eye level. Play with Peter Tugboat, who says, "p-p-p-p." Let her feel the air of sounds as you make them. Blow bubbles and make the sound "b, b, b, b." Feel the motor in your throat on this sound. Engines on toys can make a wonderful "rrr-rrr-rrr" sound.
- Reinforce and expand on your child’s single word speech. For example, if your child says "car," you respond by saying, "You're right! That is a big red car."
- Read to your child daily if possible. Read books with simple colorful pictures, and 1 to 2 words or a simple sentence on each page, Take time to name and describe the pictures. Ask your child to point to pictures that you name, or ask her to name pictures.
- Talk with your child. Ask her questions to encourage more thoughts and language. Even if your child is not saying real words yet, you can show her how to take turns in conversation by responding to her babbling. For example, your child says, “Baba” and reaches for bottle, and you respond with, “Yes, that is your bottle.”
- Sing simple songs with your child, such as "Happy Birthday."
- Play matching games with your toddler, like sorting shapes and putting together simple puzzles.
- Always check your child's ability to hear, and pay attention to ear problems and infections, especially when they keep happening.
If you have questions about language development, call Rehabilitation Services at 901-595-3621. If you are inside the hospital, dial 3621. If you are outside the Memphis area, call toll-free 1-866-2ST-JUDE (1-866-278-5833), extension 3621.
Adapted from materials from the American Speech-Language Hearing Association, www.ASHA.org
This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.
St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.
ATTENTION: If you speak another language, assistance services, free of charge, are available to you. Call 1-866-278-5833 (TTY: 1-901-595-1040).
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