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 she’ll understand mostly nouns – for example, ‘dog’, ‘bus’ and ‘couch’. Eventually she’ll understand a few verbs – for example, ‘eat’ and ‘run’. Adjectives come next – for example, ‘big’ and ‘blue’.

Understanding and language development in children 1-2 years

At around 12 months, your child will understand the names of things nearby. For example, he’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 will use the same word to refer to different things. For example, she might call all animals ‘doggie’.

At around 15 months, your child will point to things further away and ask you to name them.

At around 18 months, your child will refer to himself by name. A few months later, he’ll begin to understand and use ‘I’ to refer to himself. This is when he starts to realise he’s a separate person with his own ideas.

During this year, your child will understand:

  • some familiar phrases like ‘Give me a kiss’
  • simple instructions like ‘Stop that’
  • very, very simple explanations.

Your child will start being able to identify parts of her body and point to objects when asked – for example, ‘Show me the truck’.

Using words and sentences

Language development includes learning to use words and sentences.

At around 12 months, your child will start using words to communicatewith you. His babble will start turning into real words. Your child might also enjoy saying the same word over and over.

Your child will begin to put two words together as she nears two years – for example, ‘mummy car’, ‘me go’ or ‘sock foot’. Words like ‘the’ and ‘is’ will be missing in these two-word sentences. She’ll use only a few descriptive words at this age – for example, ‘big’, ‘red’ or ‘sunny’. Her 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 him to pronounce words differently from the way adults say them. For example, he might say ‘tar’ instead of ‘car’, or he 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 she’s two years old, someone who doesn’t know her well should be able to understand about half of what she says.

Conversation and communication

Learning to have a conversation is part of language development.

Your child might draw attention to something by saying ‘Wassat’ (‘What’s that?’) or pointing. And he knows that if you point to something and say ‘Look’, you’re showing him something.

Your child will answer simple questions, and she’ll also understand the difference in your tone when you ask a question or make a statement. And she’ll know what it means when you say ‘no’ or ‘not’.

Your child will try to make it easier for you to understand him by combining words, gestures and sounds and by changing the tone of his voice.

And your child will enjoy imitating the actions of people around her, and start to understand how to get attention from others by ‘showing off’.

Children grow and develop at different rates. Some children who seem slow to start talking often catch up in a few years. The information in this article is offered as a guide only. You know your child best, so if you’re at all concerned about your child’s language development, speak with your GP, paediatrician or child and family health nurse.