Article at a Glance

  • Identifying problems early is the best way to help children who are struggling with language development.
  • Knowing some of the milestones to look for can help you get a sense of whether or not there is a problem.
  • Spending lots of time with your child talking, reading, and singing together can encourage language development.

It is normal for some children to start talking later than others. Children don’t all reach the same milestones at the same age. Even siblings will develop at different rates in different areas. So how can you tell if your child is just a late bloomer or has a language delay or disorder you should be worried about?

There is no black and white answer, but there are some things you can look for. And don’t be afraid to ask your pediatrician if you are concerned. Identifying problems early is the best way to help children who are struggling with language development.

What to look for with language development


  • Does my baby react to sound? If your child does not react to sounds it could be a sign of hearing loss.
  • Does my baby vocalize? Before 12 months old your baby should be experimenting with sounds by cooing and babbling.

12 Months to 24 Months

  • Does my child prefer to use gestures instead of vocalizing to communicate?
  • Can my child imitate sounds?
  • Can my child understand simple verbal requests?
  • Is my child using hand gestures like waving goodbye or pointing?

Two Years

  • Can I understand less than 50 percent of what my child is saying?
  • Does my child sound unusual when talking? For example, talking with a raspy or nasally sound.
  • Can my child follow two-step verbal instructions?
  • Does my child say words spontaneously or only when imitating somebody else’s speech?
  • Can my child use language to communicate more than immediate needs?
  • Does my child only use some sounds or some words, but not others?
  • Does my child have a vocabulary of at least 50 words?
  • Does my child speak in two-word phrases like “more milk” or “want cookie?”
  • Can my child name simple, everyday objects?

Three Years

  • Can my child speak in three-word sentences?
  • Does my child have a vocabulary of 200 words or more?
  • Can I understand my child at least 75 percent of the time?
  • Does my child use pronouns?
  • Does my child understand prepositions like “on,” “under,” and “in?”

Encouraging language development

Parents can help with language development by:

  • Talking to their children throughout the day.
    Asking questions and explaining what you are doing during the day gives your child plenty of opportunities to see how language is used and to practice. For example, point out objects, ask questions, and explain what you are doing when performing everyday tasks like cooking or dressing your child. If your child responds back, acknowledge their response even if you can’t understand it. The more words your child hears on a daily basis, the more “practice” they are going to get.
  • Reading to their children.
    Reading to your child is an important way to build vocabulary and comprehension. For babies, reading a book may be no more than pointing out objects on a page and talking about them.
  • Making it fun.
    Playing games that encourage imitation and singing songs to your child can make learning fun and spark more interest in a child who is hesitant to communicate.

More Information:
Delayed Speech or Language Development (
Late Blooming or Language Problem? (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association)

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How can I tell if my child has a problem with language development?

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