You may be wondering…
How many words does my toddler really have? And, what counts as a “word” anyway? At Speech Sisters, we get asked these questions all the time!
You can count the following 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”)
And you can count these examples above as words as long as your child is using it:
CONSISTENTLY (e.g. regularly and more than once)
INDEPENDENTLY (e.g. your child uses the word on their own)
INTENTIONALLY (e.g. in right context…they know what the word means)
So not that you know what counts as a word…Do you want to know the number one question we get asked?
HOW MANY WORDS SHOULD MY CHILD HAVE?
This is a challenging question to answer. Why? Because there truly is a RANGE of how many words a child should have at a given age.
We want to explain this in the easiest way possible. Because there is a range of what is considered developmentally appropriate, there is not an exact number to this question. We call this the “EXPECTED RANGE”. The “expected range” shows the span of approximately how many words a child typically says at the following ages:
*Note the “MILESTONE” (the lower numbers in the “expected range”) can be defined as what “MOST” children are able to do at a certain age (e.g. think approximately 90%).
*Note the “AROUND AVERAGE” (the higher numbers in the “expected range”) reflect more of the “average” number of words being used by a certain age group (e.g. think approximately 50%).
*Note the “ABOVE EXPECTED RANGE” (the highest numbers in this chart) reflect beyond what is expected for a child to say at a certain age (e.g. think approximately 25%). The “above expected range” numbers are derived from the standardized norms from The MacArthur-Bates Assessment (2007).
*A child may be below the “expected range” or well above the expected range. If a child is below the milestone (lower number) in the “expected range” we always recommend talking to your pediatrician and a speech-language pathologist.
Do you want to know why we decided to provide the number of words a child should have across a range?
After researching multiple resources, there seems to be a discrepancy between what many speech-language pathologists believe is appropriate versus what pediatricians (AAP), Mayo Clinic, or even the CDC provide. We want to bridge the gap because the truth is that none of the above-mentioned professionals or institutions are “in the wrong”. Speech-language pathologists often state a child should be saying 10 words by 15 months, 50 words by 18 months, and 200-300 words by 24 months! Whereas the AAP, CDC or Mayo Clinic states that a child should say 10 words by 18 months or 50 words by 24 months.
This is so confusing…right?
Here is why there is a discrepancy. Many speech-language pathologists tend to use more of the “AVERAGE” of what children can say at a given age as the guideline. On the other hand, the AAP, CDC, & Mayo Clinic are providing us with the MILESTONE as the guideline (remember that is what MOST children are able to do…think approximately 90%). Does this help clear up any confusion? Basically, nobody is “wrong”, but it is very important for parents to understand the different guidelines and the reason for this discrepancy. This is why we created the “expected range” to help bridge the gap and share the numbers from both schools of thought!
So you may be wondering….what does this mean for my child?
If your child is within the “expected range” and making continuous progress, then they are most likely “on track”. Remember this is a range, so children can be at different places on this track even if they are exactly the same age! Let’s give an example:
Sam and Tommy are both 18 months old. They are only one week apart in age. They both seem to understand language and follow age-appropriate directions. Sam has 48 words and Tommy has 12 words. Despite this discrepancy, both Sam and Tommy are within the “expected range” and considered “on track” for the number of words they are saying!
Our mission is to educate parents about communication milestones. If your child is below the milestone you can and should be proactive! If your child is just meeting the milestone or is within the expected range, we believe that when a parent has the tools they need to maximize communication opportunities, they can significantly expand their child’s language development! This is why we developed our online courses. In these courses, we teach specific strategies that are easy to implement into your daily routines and are proven to expand your child’s language!
To learn simple and effective strategies to help get your little one talking, check out our Talk on Track (newborn-14 months) and Time to Talk: Toddler Course (15-36 months). We’d love to equip you to experience the joy of your little one talking to you!
**If your child is not meeting communication milestones we recommend talking to your pediatrician and consulting with a speech-language pathologist. Additionally, it is important to note that this article relates to typically developing children. That includes children with average to above average receptive language skills and no additional cognitive or developmental diagnoses.
Fenson, L., Marchman, V. A., Thal, D. J., Dale, P. S., Reznick, J. S., & Bates, E. (2007). MacArthur-Bates communicative development inventories (2nd ed.). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). CDC’s Developmental Milestones. Retrieved on December 12, 2019 from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/milestones/index.html
Hagan, J. F., Shaw, J. S., & Duncan, P. (Eds.). (2008). Bright futures: Guidelines for health supervision of infants, children, and adolescents (3rd ed.). Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics. Retrieved on March 2, 2020 from https://brightfutures.aap.org/Bright%20Futures%20Documents/BF4_POCKETGUIDE.pdf
Language development: Speech milestones for babies. Mayo Clinic website. Retrieved on March 2, 2020 from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/infant-and-toddler-health/in-depth/language-development/art-20045163