How many words should my child be saying?
Your child has started saying some words, this is an exciting stage! Now you may be wondering, “what even counts as a word?” and “how many words should my child be saying?”
We get asked these questions from parents all the time! Check out this blog post to find out a detailed explanation of what counts as a word.
The following counts as words:
- Actual words (of course)
- Word approximations (e.g. “dah” for dog or “ba” for “ball”)
- Exclamatory words (e.g. “uh-oh”, “beep-beep”, “whoa”, “ew”)
- Animal sounds count as words (e.g. “moo”, “meow”, “baa”, “maa”, “woof”, “roar”)
- Baby sign language (e.g. “more”, “all done”, “help”)
When a baby uses these words, to be counted as actual words they need to be:
- Intentional: this is where your baby is communicating with you on purpose.
- Consistent: They say the words in the same way each time.
- In context: They show that they are using the word in the right way at the right time.
- Spontaneous: They say the word independently.
Now that we know what counts as an actual word, how many words should a child have at each age? It’s not as straight forward as saying a specific number of words for a specific age – not all children develop at the exact same rate so there is a range of what is typical for communication development.
Language skills are also broken up into two areas – receptive language (understanding skills) and expressive language (talking skills). During development, children typically develop their receptive language skills slightly faster than their expressive language skills.
A child may start to use a real word around this age, but if not there are plenty of other prelinguistic (before talking) skills they are working on to help their talking. These include:
- Responding to someone by smiling or shying away
- Using gestures, such as pointing, pulling or poking things to communicate what they want or need
- Copying actions and sounds (e.g. clapping hands)
- Vocalising some vowel like sounds (e.g. ee, oo)
- Vocalising one or two consonant sounds (e.g. m, d, p)
- Combining sounds to form a syllable (e.g. da, pa)
- Seeking attention from others around them
- Playing simple turn-taking games like peek-a-boo
- Saying their first word at around 12 months
12-24 months old
Your child will typically have a big explosion of words at this stage. Quite often they will be challenging to understand, but becoming more consistent. The other expressive language skills that they will demonstrate include:
- Using 50-200 words by 2 years
- Combining 2 or more words together (e.g. “more ball”, “no mum”, “give me”, “put down truck”)
- Labelling photos of objects
- By 2 years of age your child will be using words more often then gestures
- Copying and imitating a lot of actions (like jumping, hand actions in nursery rhymes)
- Copying and imitating lots of common words
- Holding out toys or other objects to show people
- Using vocalisations to ask for things
- Babbling short strings which sounds almost like real words and sentences
2-3 years old
At this stage, it can be challenging to keep track of the number of words a child has (because there are lots!). Instead, we can start to look at how they are combining those words to make sentences and use early developing grammar. Between 2-3, a child should be able to:
- Combine 2-4 word sentences often when talking
- Answer simple “What’s this?”, “What is the boy doing?” and “Where is it?” questions
- Answer “yes” and “no” questions
- Asks lots of questions (e.g. “What is that?”, “Where is it?”)
- Label a large range of pictures and actions
- Use “-ing” at the end of action words where appropriate (e.g. running)
- Use little words like “the”, “a”
3-4 years old
By 3.5, a child is expected to:
- Use 3-5 word sentences (e.g. “the boy is jumping”)
- Use around 800 words
- Answer simple questions (e.g. “who is that?”)
By 4 years, a child can:
- Use around1000-1500 words
- Use little words “is/are” and “he/she”, “I”, “me”, “mine” correctly
- Beginning to respond correctly to “why?” questions (e.g. “Why do you brush your teeth?”)
- Use joining words such as “because”, “then”, “and” (e.g. “The boy is big and mean!”)
- Can tell a story of 2 events in sequence (e.g. “I went to the shops then to McDonalds”)
- Begin to use language for jokes and teasing
- Might correct others
- Asks a lot of “how”, “why” and “when” questions and expects detailed answers
- Be clear to others in conversation (increased intelligibility)
4-5 years old
A child is almost ready to go to school at this stage. They have developed so many expressive language skills and you can have a conversation with them. In addition, they can also:
- Use all pronouns correctly (“he/she”, “his/her”, “himself/herself”, “me”, “mine”, “I” etc.)
- Name days of the week in order
- Tell a long story maintaining theme and sequence
- Grammar is mostly correct
- Can Identify similarities and differences in objects
The above information is based on typically developing children; this will be different for children with developmental or cognitive diagnoses.
What do I do if my child is not meeting these milestones?
If you feel like your child isn’t meeting these milestones or you are concerned at all, contact our friendly Family Experience Officers and book your child in for an assessment with a speech pathologist or speech therapy for kids. Rather than taking a “wait and see” approach, the research tells us that it is best for our children to get started with an assessment and therapy early!