Language Development

Preverbal signs (communication)

  • coughing, sniffing, and/or cooing back and forth with you (“conversation”)
  • pretending to sneeze again, to get you to say “Bless you” again
  • growling or making exploratory/happy noises
  • laughing when something is funny (something seen or heard, not just tickles)
  • Raising arms or starting to flail when they see you or want to be picked up
  • Stopping crying to hear your voice better (i.e. when you are coming to get them in the crib, or outside their room)
  • showing noticeable perkiness at a favorite word (cracker, banana)
  • crying/banging on the high chair to signal they’re all done or something fell
  • crawling to come find you, crying when they spot you
  • babbling when you are talking to someone else, as if trying to make noise too
  • babbling as if trying to tell you something (“telling stories”)

First Words (Expressive)

  • hi/bye
  • Mom/Dad (although kids can mix these up or use just one term for two years and still be normal)
  • thank you (“dee-dee” or “dee-doo”)
  • all done (“ah-duh”) or all gone (“aw gaw”)
  • up/down (although kids can mix these up or use just one term for quite some time and still be normal)
  • I’m sorry (“I sahwee”)
  • cat/dog (or “meow”/”woof woof”)
  • truck (“uck” or “kuh”)
  • “choo-choo”
  • ball (“bah” or “bow”)
  • No (yes might not come for awhile longer)
  • Mine
  • What’s this/What is it? (“wasdis?” or “wateesit?”)
  • Stuck (“duck”)
  • cracker (“kaka” or whatever your key food is)
  • banana (“bana” or “nana”)
  • open (“ah-bee”)
  • milk (“mawk”)

Notes: Some children are talking fluently by 2 years of age. The above list doesn’t address that. It is more of an order of development that you should see at the minimum, if the child’s expressive language is developing slowly.

Your child should be able to use (initiate) these words appropriately, not just say them when you prompt. If they aren’t using them on their own, they are probably memorizing rather than communicating– usually a sign of a receptive language problem.

Also look to see if your child uses words other than just nouns (or simple adjectives like colors). The emergence of things like “down,” “all done,” or “thank you” is very important because it shows cognitive understanding of a concept and subsequent appropriate expression of that concept in a social setting (i.e. to YOU!). Object names or labels are easy to parrot back, but neutral. So while it is fun for toddlers to learn their letters, shapes, animals, and colors at this age, recognize that it exercises and conveys only a one-dimensional part of their development. If your child gravitates to this type of knowledge to the exclusion of expressions or communicative phrases, it may actually signal a problem in other verbal areas. Many autistic spectrum kids, for example, love to pick up this kind of stuff at very early ages (12-15 months) but stall over simple communication like being finished or wanting something.

Also, for whatever reason, know that while most toddlers catch on to animal sounds before the names of the animals, your pediatrician may want to know whether he/she can label “cat” and “dog” (rather than meow/woof-woo) when presented with a picture of them, by 2yrs old. Often, animals and sounds are the first vocabulary words to expand… duck (quack), cow (moo), bird (chirp, tweet), etc. And it is so much fun to hear little kids try to mimic all the sounds. But keep this fact in the back of your mind when you go for your 18- or 24- month visit… sometimes there is a short developmental test then which includes this question. “Go get the paper” or something like that is also on that questionnaire.

Next Concepts

  • Here ya go
  • Here it is!
  • Where’d it go?
  • Get it!
  • Not yet
  • Almost
  • I ready.
  • Mess! or What a mess!
  • Get past?
  • Me/You/I (or at least two of these)
  • I can’t do it.
  • Too hard.
  • Try it/Can you try?
  • No I do it.
  • By myself
  • I know.
  • in/on/under
  • on top
  • Please
  • calling for Mom/Dad, going to find them
  • Where’s Mommy going?
  • What you doing?
  • What happened?
  • What a mess
  • Why (or sometimes, Why not?)
  • Can you find…/Foundja!
  • take turns (My turn! Your turn!)
  • No thanks.
  • I don’t think so. (sometimes used instead of, “No not really” or “I don’t want to”)
  • I want/I like/I need (when you ask, “What do you want/like/need?”)
  • I want (when you offer two choices)
  • the ABC song (except for the last line, which is usually butchered for quite awhile)
  • counting 1-10
  • Can I have it?
  • I sad.
  • He’s crying.
  • I have a problem.
  • I have an idea.
  • I wet.

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