Helping your toddler to talk


Have these stages personalized and emailed to you: Sign up now

Helping your toddler to start talking: 18 to 24 months

How can you encourage a child’s language development, and what milestones occur between 18 to 24 months for toddlers? Find out more about speech development here.

At 18 to 24 months, children try out new things and explore the world around them more actively. They will often choose their own activities and may not always like being told what to do which can lead to toddler tantrums.

Speech and language development milestones

Children develop speech and language skills at different rates, but by two years, they will usually:

  • Concentrate on activities for longer, like playing with a particular toy.
  • Sit and listen to simple stories with pictures.
  • Understand between 200 and 500 words.
  • Understand more simple questions and instructions. For example 'where is your shoe?' and 'show me your nose'.
  • Copy sounds and words a lot.
  • Use 50 or more single words. These will also become more recognisable to others.
  • Start to put short sentences together with two or three words, such as ‘more juice’ or ‘bye nanny’.
  • Enjoy pretend play with their toys, such as feeding dolly.
  • Use a limited number of sounds in their words – often these are p, b, t, d, m and w. Children will also often miss the ends off words at this stage. They can usually be understood about half of the time.

For some children, developing communication can be a very difficult process. They may need extra help to develop their skills. Parents should be concerned if by two years, their child is:

  • Slow to follow simple instructions.
  • Not saying 25 recognisable words.

If you have any concerns, you should speak to your health visitor, GP or paediatrician.

Helping to get your toddler talking 

There are lots of things you can do to encourage a toddler to talk at this stage:

  • Talk about everyday activities like putting away the shopping. This helps children to connect language to the world around them.
  • Use objects and gestures to help them understand instructions and questions. It is also useful to give a child two or three options, such as, 'do you want teddy or the car?', 'is this your nose or your foot?'
  • Read books together. Looking at the pictures and describing them is just as good as actually reading the story. ‘Lift-the-flap’ books also help concentration.
  • Repeat and expand on what a child says. If a child says 'juice' you can say 'more juice', 'juice please' or 'juice gone'. This shows your child how words can be put together to make short sentences.
  • Children learn speech sounds gradually. It is better to say the whole word back to a child rather than correcting them. It also helps them if they can see your face when you are talking to them. This helps them to watch and copy the movements of your lips.
  • Children can be frustrated when adults don't understand them. This can lead to tantrums. Encouraging a child to use gestures or actions for objects can help. Try to be patient and wait for them to finish what they are saying or trying to show you. Giving your child time to respond also teaches them about taking turns.

This article was written using information provided by I CAN, the children’s communication charity and the Talking Point website.

Further information

NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700.

You might find attending one of NCT's Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.

Download I CAN's free First Words Poster and stages of development poster, if you want to find out more about what to expect at different ages and stages.

You can also find lots more useful information and resources from I CAN.

Read The Psychology of Babies: How relationships support development from birth to two by Lynne Murray (published by Constable Robinson).

Take a look at the National Literacy Trust’s website which has information about early communication skills.