Eventually, your toddler will figure out how to string his ever-growing vocabulary into short sentences, says Stephanie Leeds, PhD, director of education and child studies at Cazenovia College, in upstate New York. Your child won't bother with inessential words like prepositions or articles. Those will come later. Now, for example, the toddler who catches the family cat digging in the flowerpot might say, "Bad cat!"
These early sentences are what experts call "telegraphic speech," and they usually consist of two words. Despite their brevity, these sentences represent a new level of communication between your child and others. For instance, he may run to the window and call out, "Daddy home!" when he hears his father's car in the driveway, or yell, "Go swing!" when he sees the playground.
Given the egocentric nature of most toddlers, early sentences are often commands. Your little dictator will yell, "More milk!" or, "Find Teddy!" as he tests his newfound ability to make his every need known. Some words might not be accurate at first -- your child might call a lion or zebra "doggie" because they all have four legs, fur, and a tail -- but the word order will almost always be correct. If your daughter says, "See bus," that probably means she's excited about having seen a bus. But if she calls, "Bus, see," it most likely means she wants you to come see the bus.
Starts with the Parents
Not surprisingly, research demonstrates that children whose parents talk to them from infancy, using a variety of words and responding positively to their efforts to speak, are likely to develop the best language skills. Remember, it's normal for parents to worry about their child's language development. "After all, we all know someone who knew somebody who had a kid who recited Shakespeare at 12 months," says Dr. Sonnen. But rest assured: even if your toddler seems slower to speak than others, as long as he listens to conversations around him, seems to understand most of what is said, and communicates through facial expressions and body language, he's probably just preparing for conversation at his own pace.
"Most kids even out in language skills by preschool," Dr. Sonnen says. After that, you may have trouble being heard over your little one's constant chatter.
- Month 16: Climbs stairs; imitates others; scribbles with crayon (or anything else she can find!); understands most of what you say; turns the pages of a book; does one-piece puzzles; stacks two to three blocks.
- Month 17: Demonstrates memory of people and places; drinks from a cup; walks up steps.
- Month 18: Forms two-word sentences; points to desired objects; brushes teeth with help.