- Learn when babies start speaking, with one or two words emerging around 10-12 months and reaching 5-10 words by 15 months.
- Generally, parents understand about 25% of a child's speech in the first year, increasing to 50-75% by 2-3 years, and nearly complete understanding by 4 years old.
- Explore the different sounds children make at various ages, from babbling at 6-12 months to mastering complex sounds like "sh" and "ch" by 4 years old.

Should I Be Able to Understand What My Toddler Says?

Around baby’s first birthday they’ll say their first words, and from then on you can’t wait to hear what they have to say next! By doing simple activities like narrating your day and responding to their vocalizations, you can help your little one say more, and learn more about talking.

While you love to hear the sound of their adorable voice, you may often wonder— what did my child just say? Don’t worry, many parents can’t understand what their toddler is trying to say! This is an expected part of toddler speech development. While it may be frustrating for you and/or your child, know that they will get easier to understand over time.

What is expected with toddler speech development?

Baby will be babbling when they are less than a year old, but will say their first words around their first birthday! “Says one or two words” is a 10-12 month milestone, and by 15 months they’ll be using 5-10 Mom playing with blocks with her baby words. As a toddler, their speech and language will develop significantly. By the end of toddlerhood (around 3 years old), they’ll understand most simple sentences, ask and answer some questions, and use plurals in their speech.

When will I be able to understand my child’s speech?

This is different for every child! But generally speaking, for typical toddler speech development:

  • Only about 25% of what children say in their first year will be understood by an adult. That’s not a lot! So don’t feel bad if you’re scratching your head while they’re talking to you.
  • By the time children are 2-3 years old, about half to 75% of what they say should be easily understood.
  • By 4 years old, you should be able to understand most of what your child is saying.

Are there certain words my child should be able to pronounce?

There’s no set of words that children should pronounce at certain ages, but know that it takes years for little ones to master all the different sounds we make while speaking. Here are some of the sounds you can expect to hear from your child at different ages:

  • From 6-12 months, baby will be babbling, and typically repeating sounds like “mamama” or “bababa”
  • Around age 2, toddlers will get better at the sounds said with the lips, like those from the letters b, p and m.
  • Around age 3, children can say sounds using their tongue, such as g, k, t, d and n.
  • By 4 years old, children can also say more complex sounds like sh, ch, j, s, and v.
  • It may take until your child is 5-6 years old to master sounds like th.

What should I do when my child says something incorrectly?

mom playing with daughter laying on her backLet’s say your 18 month old child is trying to say ball, but instead they say “ba”. Should you correct them? Or should you let them say this word incorrectly (but adorably!)?

Speech experts actually recommend that you don’t correct your children directly when they say a word wrong. They instead recommend modeling an example of the correct way to say the word, which your child will pick up on over time. So if they point to a ball and say “Ba! Ba!”, you can respond with, “Would you like the ball?”

While this helps with pronunciation, speech experts say this also helps children with learning about back-and-forth interactions, and learning from those interactions. Who knew you were accomplishing so much in such a simple conversation?!

Should I talk to a healthcare provider about their speech?

The answer to this depends on your child’s age. Remember, if intervention is needed the earlier the better, so if you have any concerns about your child’s speech, speak to a healthcare provider.

Some signs you should talk to a healthcare provider are:

  • If your child appears to be having difficulty speaking, or gets frustrated when trying to get the words out.
  • If there’s been no improvement in how much of your child’s speech you can understand as they get older.
  • If your child starts experiencing issues with speech (like disfluencies, which you can learn more about here) around 4 years old or is still experiencing issues around age 5.
  • If you have a family history of speech issues.
  • If your child hasn’t developed their first first words shortly after their first birthday.
  • If your child doesn’t continue to add new words to their vocabulary.

An evaluation and treatment with a speech-language pathologist can make a huge difference in how your child communicates, if they are experiencing issues. Track your toddler’s speech development and reach out to a healthcare provider if you have any questions!