Who's a little chatterbox?

Your tot has been learning about sound since before they were born. And during their first year, they have been gaining the skills they need to speak.

Now it all starts to come together. Sometime, usually between the ages of 9 and 15 months, they will say their first word. Then they’ll start talking in their own time.

Around 12 to 18 months

Your toddler will probably be able to say two or three words. Over the next six months or so they will add to these. They point to objects when asked, wave when someone is leaving and say ‘Bye-bye’. At this stage words tend to be all-purpose. ‘Cat’ or ‘dog’ may refer to all four-legged animals, while ‘mama’ or ‘dada’ can mean anything from ‘Great to see you’ to ‘I’m tired’, ‘I’m hungry’ or ‘Give me a cuddle’, depending on how it’s said. Simple phrases like ‘Want drink’or ‘All gone’ come out as one word.

How you can help

  • Keep on talking. Experts say toddlers need to hear a word about 500 times before using it.
  • Act it out. Help your tot to make connections between actions and words by talking them through what you are doing. For example, ‘Let’s put your coat on to go out now. First put one arm in the sleeve. Now let’s do the other arm.’
  • Baby talk is OK. At first your little one won’t pronounce words properly. They might say ‘do’ for ‘dog’ or ‘dat’ for ‘that’. You don’t need to correct them. They will begin to say things properly in their own good time.
  • Remember to speak slowly and clearly. Make your voice slightly higher in order to attract your child’s attention.
  • Help them add more words to their vocabulary with new experiences – a trip on a bus or train, or a visit to a city farm. Talk to them about what you’ve seen and done.
  • Help convey what they say to other people. If others can’t follow what your child is saying, help them out so they gain confidence in talking and that what they say is understood.
  • If your child uses a dummy, try not to allow them to speak while their dummy is in their mouth. Better remove it altogether. See page 47 for tips on limiting the use of the dummy.
  • Give your child your full attention: talk to them face to face. This will provide eye contact with your child and allow them to copy you.
  • Limit screen time, toddlers should have no more than two hours a day.
  • Enjoy stories, nursery rhymes and songs together.

Around 19 to 24 months

By 19 months or so, your little one will usually have at least a few words. They may have a working vocabulary of 50 to 70 words and be able to understand as many as 200. They are learning words at a rate of 10 or more a day and are starting to string words together such as ‘More ’tatoes’, ‘Carry me’, ‘Don’t want to’. By the time they are 2, they’ll usually be able to form sentences of two or three words and sing simple tunes. Most kids will be able to follow simple instructions such as ‘Point to your nose’, ‘Take your shoes to Daddy’, ‘Where’s your hat?’ Your child may be able to identify pictures and point to ones that show actions such as running, jumping or crying. As they develop a stronger sense of who they are, they’ll also begin to talk about what they like and dislike. Their favourite word may well be ‘no’! They will still tend to refer to themselves and other people by name, rather than talking about ‘I’ or ‘me’. For example, ‘Tom throw ball’ or ‘Daddy get it’.

How you can help

  • Talk about what is happening as you go about everyday activities. For example, ‘We’re putting the toys in the toy box.
  • Pass me the blocks, Tom. You can help me put them in the box.’
  • Help them learn to know and name their feelings. For example, ‘You’re happy to see Grandad’, ‘You’re angry because it’s time to stop playing now’.
  • Use questions and answers to help them realise that communication goes two ways. If something happens, ask them ‘what?’ or ‘where?’ If you’re looking at a book together, ask them what’s happening in the pictures.

Around 25 to 36 months

Their vocabulary is now growing fast and by about the age of 3 your child may have around 300 words and know the meaning of many more. They can follow a two- or three-part instruction like, ‘Get the nappy from the basket and bring it to me’. They are getting the hang of ‘I’, ‘me’, ‘you’ and plurals.

By 3, most kids can put words together to form simple, complete sentences, such as, ‘I go now’. In fact, many kids can now put together quite complex sentences and carry on a conversation, adapting their tone, speech and language to the person they’re talking to.

They can say their name, age and sex and know major body parts. Other people should be able to understand most of what they say. Their favourite word is ‘why?’.

How you can help

  • Join in their make-believe games. Ask what they’re doing, where they’re going, where they live and what they like to eat.
  • Encourage them to use words to describe things – the red ball, the soft blanket.
  • Use every opportunity you can to talk to them.
  • When looking at a book or TV, phone screen or tablet encourage them to tell you what’s happening and explain why they think things happen.
  • Encourage them to help you and put names to things.
  • Teach them that different activities have different words. For example, in cooking the words are chop, mix, beat, peel, hot.
  • Enjoy stories, nursery rhymes and songs together.

How to get talking!

Solving a tricky problem together gets Paul and Charlie talking to each other.

Here’s what happens...

1. Paul is reading the newspaper and Charlie is on the floor trying to put pieces of Duplo together.

2. Charlie looks up at his father hopefully but Paul is still busy reading.

3. As a cross Charlie throws Duplo bits across the room, Paul puts aside from the paper and joins Charlie on the floor.

4. Talking at eye level, Paul shows that he understands his son’s frustration as he sets about helping.

5. As well as giving practical help, Paul encourages Charlie to explain what he’s trying to do.

and what they say.

Charlie: ‘D-a-a-d, can’t do it.’

Dad: ‘I can see you’re having a bit of a problem with that.’
Charlie: 'Can’t do it.’

Dad: ‘That looks really frustrating. Would you like some help?’ ‘What is it you need Charlie?’
Charlie: ‘Hold it Dad.’

Dad: ‘OK! Let’s have another go at that, shall we?’ ‘What were you doing?’
Charlie: ‘Make wocket.’

Dad: ‘You’re making a rocket, eh? And what kind of rocket is it?’
Charlie: ‘Big blue wocket.’

Dad: ‘I see. Dad will hold this bit. Now you put that one on top.’ ‘Well done. Let’s make it fly shall we?’
Charlie: ‘Z-o-o-o-m’

Things to think about

  • How well do you think Paul responded to Charlie’s frustration?
  • What did Paul say and do to help Charlie develop his speech?
  • Is there anything else he could have said or done to help stretch Charlie’s language skills?


  • Conversation involves taking turns. A simple question and answer conversations, as well as games like peekaboo, will help your tot get the idea.
  • Show your tot you understand what they’re trying to tell you by expanding on what they say. In our story Paul asks, ‘What kind of rocket?’ and ‘Shall we make it fly?’
  • Help your child become aware of their emotions by recognising and naming the feelings they try to express.
  • Don’t correct your child when words come out wrongly but use the correct pronunciation yourself. When Charlie says ‘Wocket’ his dad repeats back, ‘A rocket.’
  • Come down to your tot’s level so you can see what they are talking about by following where they look. You can then join in!
  • Toddlers have difficulty following lots of words at once, so try and keep what you say short and simple.

Children learn to communicate in their own time. But a delay in language development can be a sign of hearing or other difficulties.

Speak to your health visitor if you're concerned. They will be able to give you advice and support on how to develop your child's language skills and other services that could help, such as speech and language therapy.

Last updated: 24 April 2019