Expert / 12 June, 2018 / Amanda Griffiths

Is my toddler speaking enough? What to expect in the first few years of speech and language

Last month I wrote about the first 18 months of speech, language and communication development and gave insight into the diverse role of speech and language therapists. This month we move on to the next 18 months, up until the age of three. Your child will only have just started to use spoken words and phrases, but this early stage of speech, language and communication development is crucial. Research shows a two-year-old’s language development can strongly predict reading skills on entry into school, as well as later educational attainment.

The language explosion

The “language explosion” at this age is your child beginning to say the words he or she already understands. The foundation skills established in the first 18 months continue to develop, for example listening and attention, turn taking, play and behaviour and are key to successful speech, language and communication development. Speech and language therapists, therefore, continue to attribute as much importance to these foundation skills as to what your child can say.

18 months to three years


The ability to communicate underpins many of the classic behaviours we associate with this age group. Tantrums are often your child’s way of letting you know what he or she wants. Frustratingly for the child and adult having a tantrum is not always the most effective means of communicating, but tantrums are a completely typical stage in your child’s development. Tantrums demonstrate your child is becoming independent, developing an understanding of the world and showing likes and dislikes. As this happens children want to express preferences and make choices and may not like being directed by an adult and told what to do.

READ MORE: The Best Ways To Deal With A Toddler Tantrum

Attention and Listening

Speech and language therapists focus on a child’s attention and listening skills throughout all ages and stages. Just like walking and talking, attention and listening go through developmental stages. By two years your child will pay attention to an activity of his or her choice and by three years your child will be able to listen and attend to an adult talking. Maintaining focus on what someone is saying by just listening can be difficult at any age and this is especially true for young children. Your child will benefit from being refocussed to maintain attention. The use of visual prompts will keep your child engaged in what you are saying, for example by using natural gesture, objects in the environment and pictures.


Another typical developmental stage your child may go through at this age is called echolalia. This is when your child repeats what adults say to him or her. Repetition gives your child the opportunity to rehearse new sequences of sounds and words. It also helps your child process what is being said so is a useful strategy in supporting understanding.

By the age of three a child’s speech should be easily intelligible to an unfamiliar adult, even though he or she will still make lots of speech errors.

Speech Sounds

At this age your child’s speech is likely to sound unclear and he or she will make typical developmental errors when talking, for example saying, “Gog,” instead of, “Dog,” or, “Tat,” instead of, “Cat.” It may be only adults who are familiar with your child’s speech understand what he or she is saying and this is completely fine for toddlers. By the age of three a child’s speech should be easily intelligible to an unfamiliar adult, even though he or she will still make lots of speech errors. Many speech sounds do not develop until after the age of three, so a speech and language therapist may well place your child on review to see how his or her speech develops without any intervention, as long as the other foundation skills are in place. Next month I will go into detail about speech sound development and when to expect which sounds.

Developmental Dysfluency

Toddlers and young children understand far more than they can say. While talking catches up with the amount he or she wants to communicate you may hear your child stammer or stutter. This is not something to worry about in the pre-school years, it is a typical developmental process called, “Developmental Dysfluency.” If your child is presenting with developmental dysfluency it is important to give him or her time to speak and finish what he or she wants to say. This can be difficult in a busy family environment, so make sure everyone, for example, siblings, grandparents, nannies and childminders, understand the importance of pausing and listening without your child feeling hurried to finish talking.

Toddlers and young children can have vast differences in their speech, language and communication development so try not to compare too much with your child’s siblings and friends.

Speech and Language Therapy

The speech and language therapist’s role with children in this age group is as diverse as described for children up to 18 months. During this time we identify and support children from vulnerable populations. We continue to offer services to children’s centres and early education settings for children we know will have long-term speech, language and communication needs, or feeding and swallowing difficulties. We work with children at home and in clinics offering direct therapy. If a child has delayed attention and listening, for example, we will offer support and ideas to the family, but may also invite the child to attend a language group with other children with similar difficulties. We always support the family and professional team around a child, ensuring a child is immersed in a language rich environment supporting his or her speech, language and communication development.

What to expect and when

Just like the first 18 months, there is a huge variation in the age children progress through the stages of speech, language and communication development. Below is a guide about what to expect:

By 2 years your toddler will:

  • Concentrate for longer periods of time when playing with a particular toy or object of interest to him or her.
  • Listen and share a simple story book, for example point to and name pictures, or point and say, “Da?” Indicating he or she wants you to label the picture of interest.
  • Begin to engage in simple pretend play, e.g. feeding a dolly; cuddling teddy; pushing a toy car while saying, “Brrrrm, brrrrm.”
  • Play happily alongside other children but not always interacting or sharing with peers.
  • Understand an increasingly wide vocabulary of up to 500 words.
  • Begin to understand simple questions, e.g. “Where’s teddy?”.
  • Begin to understand simple instructions, e.g. “Give me the cup.”
  • Copy the words and phrases an adult says to him or her.
  • Use 50 or more single words, mostly nouns (object or naming words), that are recognisable to familiar adults most of the time.
  • Begin to use short sentences and phrases, e.g. “More juice;” “My car;” “Give teddy.”
  • Use a limited range of speech sounds including p, b, t, d, m and w.
  • Miss parts off words, often the last sound, e.g. “Bus” becomes, “Bu”.

By 3 years your child will:

  • Enjoy listening to and demonstrate he or she remembers a familiar story with pictures.
  • Play happily interacting with other children and begin to share toys.
  • Understand a wider range of questions, including, “Who,” “What” and “Where?”
  • Understand longer questions, e.g. “Where is your coat and hat?” Or, “Who climbed the tree?”
  • Understand longer instructions, e.g. “Go and get your shoes and socks.” “Where did you hide your teddy?”
  • Say up to 300 words including nouns and an increasing number of verbs (action or doing words).
  • Put words together to make simple sentences and phrases, e.g. “Want more biscuit.” “Bobby took my car.”
  • Ask lots of questions to find out the names of things of interest to him or her.
  • Start to use simple plurals by adding an ‘s’ to the end of words, e.g. “Cars”.
  • Continue to make errors with pronunciation, for example, shortening longer words, missing the beginning and/or end of a word.
  • Use a wider range of sounds but to continue to have trouble with sounds including “sh”, “ch” and “r”.
  • Abbreviate clusters of sounds, e.g. “spoon” becomes “poon” or “cloud” becomes “loud”, or even, “louw”, if your child is also missing the ends of words.
  • Despite speech sound errors, most adults, even unfamiliar adults, should now be able to understand what your child is saying.
  • Occasionally have dysfluent speech that sounds like a stammer or stutter.

READ MORE: Child Language Development: What To Expect And When

Toddlers and young children can have vast differences in their speech, language and communication development so try not to compare too much with your child’s siblings and friends. As a parent myself, I never tell parents not to worry, because that is what we do! If you are worried speak to your health visitor or GP and ask for a referral to speech and language therapy. Or if your child attends a crèche or nursery speak to the staff as early years educators will have knowledge of early speech, language and communication development. Parental concern is very often valid so listen to your instinct and seek help and advice. Traditionally, speech and language therapists were employed by the NHS but an increasing number now work independently. You can find a speech and language therapist local to you by contacting the Association of Speech and Language Therapists in Independent Practice (ASLTIP). Early intervention is very important and research shows the earlier support and advice is given the better the outcome for your child. Remember most children develop speech, language and communication skills without any difficulty and it is a fun and rewarding time for parents and the whole family.

How to support your child’s language development

Read stories to your child every day.

Look at books with your child.

Tell stories to your child.

Play easy “I spy,” for pictures or objects in the immediate environment; e.g. “I spy something beginning with d”, “dog!” “I spy something beginning with m,” “Mummy!” Avoid words starting with clusters e.g. spoon, crane, tree.

Talk to your child. Talk about what you are doing;  what you can see; why things happen; what you will do next.

Talk about the size, shape, colour and number of things.

Encourage your child to focus on and follow two part instructions.

Listen to your child. What does your child talk about and/or show an interest in? Enjoy little conversations about these interests.

Add words to expand his or her vocabulary. If your child says a noun (name or object word) add a verb (action or doing word), colour, place (e.g. in, on or under) or describing word. For example, if he says, “Dog”, you say, “Yes! The big dog is chasing the ball.” She says, “Duck swim”, you say, “The duck is swimming in the pond.”

Say and sing lots of nursery rhymes, songs and poems.

Play rhyming games. Encourage your child to listen and experiment with rhyme.

Clap the syllables of words. Try clapping family names. Who gets the most claps?

Give him or her time to speak.

For more information, useful links and resources visit:


In The Spotlight

New Rosa & Blue For Silver Cross Sleep Range

The Rosa & Blue for Silver Cross sleep range is crafted from the perfect blend of soft bamboo and organic cotton. Rosa & Blue are sleepwear specialists, creating endearing essentials to ensure the softest sleep for your baby.

Discover two premium sleep sets adorned with beautiful illustrations, hand-painted exclusively for this luxurious new collection.



Latest posts

Product Reviews / 11 July, 2024

Best Travel Games And Accessories For A Peaceful Trip

Competitions / 11 July, 2024

WIN! A Bundle Of Preschool Books Worth £100 From Puffin Books

Recipes / 10 July, 2024

Gunpowder Prawns With Chopped Salad And Rotis

My Baba Measure / 10 July, 2024

The Measure: What’s Hot For Parents & Kids

Education / 10 July, 2024

Why Are Schools Banning Smartphones?