All children learn speech in the same order: first words then phrases and, finally sentences. Beyond that, each child’s speech development is unique, proceeding according to her, own personal timetables, sometimes speeding up, slowing down, or plateauing for a while. Which is why comparisons to other children your toddler’s age (and even to your own toddler six months ago) can be misleading. A child who was the first in her play group to use words may not be the first to start linking words together in sentences. In fact, a child who was relatively late to speak might accomplish this first.
Sometimes toddlers who are physically precocious – the early walkers, climbers, jumpers, ball-throwers ñ are later talkers; they put so much of their energy and concentration into physical exploits that they have little left over for verbal exploration. Lack of stimulation (or its opposite, excessive pressure to perform verbally) may also inhibit the development of language. So can a well-meaning family that anticipates a toddler’s every wish before it is spoken. Whatever the reason, however, once they get started, late talkers often quickly develop mature speech. Because they’re older when pronunciation, a better intuitive grasp of grammar and a larger vocabulary (which was quietly building up all along).
Its true that many nineteen-month-olds use a couple of dozen words regularly, but some, like your child, are language beginners. Many late talkers suddenly bloom linguistically over their next few months; others wont until they’re closer to age two. In the meantime, most will use a host of nonverbal language to communicate with others.
To be sure, however, that there isn’t something more than a slow timetable at work here, observe your toddler’s response to your speech. Does she understand questions (‘Do you want a drink?’); follow simple commands (‘Put that book back ,please’); respond to statements (‘We’re going bye-bye now’)? Also not her ability to communicate nonverbally (through pointing or grunting, for instance) when she wants something to eat, a toy that’s out of reach, the TV turned on, her nappy changed. IF she understands what is said and is able to communicate her needs and wants (albeit wordlessly), you needn’t be concerned about her speech.
Discuss any doubts with your child’s doctor to evaluate the advisability of a hearing test or a formal assessment of language skills by a certified speech and language pathologist. (Testing and treatment for speech, language and hearing problems are available for developmentally challenged infants and toddlers. Check with your health visitor for information on specific programmes.) If testing confirms either a hearing problem or a significant language delay, it’s important to start your toddler on speech therapy as soon as possible, both to protect her self-esteem and to head off any problems that might crop up when she goes to school.
I’ve noticed that most of the toddlers in my son’s play group are putting words together. He has a pretty large vocabulary – maybe a hundred words – but he mostly uses just one word at a time. Only occasionally does he throw in a two-word phrase. Shouldn’t I worry because he isn’t speaking in sentences yet?
Not at all. Your son’s language development is not only a schedule, it’s a bit ahead of schedule. Some children his age are just uttering their first words and most have only a few have begun speaking in complete sentences. It’s not until somewhere around the second birthday that most children begin combining words into meaningful sentences. Usually, brief phrases come first, two-word combinations such as, ‘go out’ or ‘pick up’ or ‘more milk’. Then come basic sentences, with subjects and verbs, such as, ‘Bobby go out’ or ‘Dada pick up’ or ‘Brooke wanna drink’. On average, more grammatical language doesn’t appear until close to the third birthdays.
For now, as long as your child uses at least a few words, seems to understand what is said to him, can follow simple instructions (such as, ‘come here or ‘give Mummy the book, please’),and I able to communicate through a combination of single words, sign language and body language, you can feel confident that his speech development is within the normal range.
Be careful, however, while you’re encouraging your child’s language development that you don’t communicate the message that he ís lacking because he doesn’t carry on adult conversations. Pressure to hurry speech development not only work, it’s likely to backfire. A pressured toddler may simply clam up. Just relax and enjoy talking to your child; before you know it, you’ll have the added pleasure of his talking back.