Speech and language development, age 1 to 3 years

Speech and language development milestones relate to receptive language (the ability to understand words and sounds) and expressive language (the ability to use speech and gestures to communicate meaning).

Most 1-year-olds begin to understand the meanings of words. Their receptive language grows from understanding names of people and objects, to being able to follow simple requests sometime between ages 1 and 2. Expressive language advances from primarily using gestures and babbling at age 1, to using words, simple phrases, and some early sentence structures between ages 2 and 3.

Speech and language milestones
Age Receptive language Expressive language

1-year-olds (12 months to 24 months):

  • Learn that words have meaning.
  • Usually recognize the names of family members and familiar objects.
  • Understand simple statements such as "all gone" and "give me."
  • Between 1 and 2 years, understand simple requests such as "give daddy the ball."
  • By 18 months, know the names of people, body parts, and objects.
  • Use gestures, such as pointing.
  • Babble less than babies do.
  • Often make one- or two-syllable sounds that stand for items they want, such as "baba" for "bottle," and point to things they want.
  • Between 12 months and 18 months of age, may use their own language, sometimes called jargon, that is a mix of made-up words and understandable words.
  • Between 1 and 2 years, usually can say between 20 and 50 words that are intelligible to family members.

2-year-olds (24 months to 36 months):

  • Know the name of at least seven body parts.
  • Increase their understanding of object names.
  • Follow simple requests (such as "put the book on the table").
  • Continue to learn and use gestures.
  • Sometimes talk a lot, although some are quiet.
  • If quiet, develop a communication system using gestures and facial expressions; are likely to develop normal language skills.1
  • Usually can name some body parts (such as arms and legs), favorite toys, and familiar objects (such as cats and dogs).
  • Use pronouns like "me" and "you," but they often get them mixed up.
  • By age 3, usually can say between 150 to 200 words. Strangers can understand them about 75% of the time.2
  • Can make phrases, such as "no bottle" or "want cookie."

Citations

  1. Dixon SD (2006). Two years: Language leaps. In SD Dixon, MT Stein, eds., Encounters with Children: Pediatric Behavior and Development, 4th ed., pp. 383–409. Philadelphia: Mosby Elsevier.
  2. Shonkoff JP (2003). Language delay: Late talking to communication disorder. In CD Rudolph, AM Rudolph, eds., Rudolph's Pediatrics, 21st ed., pp. 441–444. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Last Updated: December 5, 2008

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