Topic Overview

Speech and language development milestones relate to receptive
language (the ability to understand words and sounds) and expressive language
(the ability to use speech and gestures to communicate meaning).

Most 1-year-olds begin to understand the meanings of words. Their
receptive language grows from understanding names of people and objects, to
being able to follow simple requests sometime between ages 1 and 2. Expressive
language advances from primarily using gestures and babbling at age 1, to using
words, simple phrases, and some early sentence structures between ages 2 and 3.

Speech and language milestones
Age Receptive language Expressive language

1-year-olds (12 months to 24 months):

  • Learn that words have
  • Usually recognize the names of family members and familiar
  • Understand simple statements such as “all gone” and “give
  • Between 1 and 2 years, understand simple requests such as
    “give daddy the ball.”
  • By 18 months, know the names of people, body
    parts, and objects.
  • Use gestures, such as
  • Babble less than babies do.
  • Often make one-
    or two-syllable sounds that stand for items they want, such as “baba” for
    “bottle,” and point to things they want.
  • Between 12 months and 18
    months of age, may use their own language, sometimes called jargon, that is a
    mix of made-up words and understandable words.
  • Between 1 and 2
    years, usually can say between 20 and 50 words that are intelligible to family

2-year-olds (24 months to 36 months):

  • Know the name of at least seven body
  • Increase their understanding of object
  • Follow simple requests (such as “put the book on the
  • When asked, point to a picture of something named (such as “Where is the cow?” or “Show me the airplane.”)
  • Continue to learn and use
  • Sometimes talk a lot, although some are
  • If quiet, develop a communication system using gestures and
    facial expressions.
  • Usually can name some body parts (such as arms
    and legs), favorite toys, and familiar objects (such as cats and
  • Use pronouns like “me” and “you,” but they often get them
    mixed up.
  • Can make phrases, such as “no bottle” or “want
  • By age 3, usually can say between 150 to 200 words.
    Strangers can understand them about 75% of the time.footnote 1

Related Information



  1. Andrews JS, Fieldman HM (2011). Language delay. In CD Rudolph et al., eds., Rudolph’s Pediatrics, 22nd ed., pp. 331-334. New York: McGraw-Hill.


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Susan C. Kim, MD – Pediatrics
John Pope, MD – Pediatrics
Specialist Medical Reviewer Louis Pellegrino, MD – Developmental Pediatrics

Current as ofMay 4, 2017