Vocabulary and language development in children 1-2 years
At 1-2 years, your child will learn to use and understand more words and more types of words.
At first they’ll understand and say mostly nouns – for example, ‘dog’ and ‘bus’. Eventually they’ll understand and say a few verbs – for example, ‘eat’ and ‘run’. Adjectives come next – for example, ‘big’ and ‘blue’.
At this age, your child uses meaningful words, made-up words, sounds and gestures to communicate.
Understanding and language development in children 1-2 years
At around 12 months, your child will understand the names of things they see or use often. For example, they’ll understand the words for:
- common objects like ‘cup’ or ‘doll’
- body parts like ‘tummy’ or ‘toe’
- clothes like ‘sock’ or ‘hat’.
But your child might use the same word to refer to different things. For example, they might call all animals ‘doggie’.
At around 15 months, your child will point to things and ask you to name them.
At around 18 months, your child will refer to themselves by name. A few months later, they’ll begin to understand and use ‘I’ to refer to themselves. This is when they start to realise they’re a separate person with their own ideas.
During this year, your child will understand:
- familiar phrases like ‘Give me the ball’
- simple instructions like ‘Stop that’
- very simple explanations like ‘The sun is out, so we need our hats’.
Using words and sentences
Language development includes learning to use words and sentences.
At around 12 months, your child will start using words to talk to you. Your child might also enjoy saying the same word over and over. There will probably be a lot of made-up words too.
By 18 months, your child might know and use 20-100 meaningful words. You’ll notice your child using new words nearly every day.
At around two years, your child will start putting two words together – for example, ‘mummy car’ or ‘me go’. They’ll use only a few descriptive words at this age – for example, ‘big’ or ‘red’. Their word combinations will consist mainly of nouns and some verbs (‘dog eat’, ‘car go’).
Your child will use a range of speech sounds, but it’s normal for toddlers to pronounce words differently from the way adults say them. For example, your child might say ‘tar’ instead of ‘car’, or your child might leave off the ends of words altogether, like ‘ca’ instead of ‘cat’.
Your child’s pronunciation will often be hard to understand. But by the time they’re two years old, someone who doesn’t know them well should be able to understand about half of what they say.
Conversation and communication
Learning to have a conversation is part of language development.
Your child might start early conversations by drawing attention to something. For example, they might say ‘Wassat’ (‘What’s that?’), use a made up word, and/or point.
Your child will answer simple questions and also understand the difference in your tone when you ask a question or make a statement. And your child knows that if you point to something and say ‘Look’, you’re showing them something.
In general, your child understands more than they can say. Your child will try to make it easier for you to understand them by combining words, gestures and sounds and by changing the rhythm and tone of their voice.
Growing up in a bilingual or multilingual family doesn’t affect how early or quickly children learn to use language. Sometimes multilingual or bilingual children mix their languages for a while, but this stops once they understand that they’re using more than one language.
When to get help for language development
If you notice any of the following signs in your child, or you’re worried about your child’s language development, it’s a very good idea to see your child and family health nurse, GP or paediatrician.
- isn’t interested in sounds
- doesn’t respond to their name or noises
- isn’t trying to communicate with babbling, words or gestures
- has stopped using a language skill they once had.
Children learn new skills over time and at different ages. Most children develop skills in the same order, and each new skill they learn builds on the last. Small differences in when children develop skills are usually nothing to worry about.