Q&A: How Many Words Should a 2 Year Old Say?

CME WebsitesChild Development, Toddlers 12 - 36 Months

blockquote_bgMy child is two years, five months old male. He says words like, no, cup, please, mama, dad, bye, it broke (muddled) and does some babbling. He has also said outside, bath, and movie but not consistently. The other day he counted to three but I can’t get him to repeat this regularly. Our daycare provider thinks he is behind in his communication skills. He understands directions and I have had his hearing checked and they say he is fine.
Sometimes he doesn’t follow directions but that is normal I believe. His dad is very quiet and my son seems to be quiet as well. He is an only child and so does a lot of interactive playing with his toys by himself or with us and does make growling sounds and truck sounds with playing with animals or vehicle toys. He does not seem interested in repeating any words that I say and I have tried to deny him what he wants until he says the word but it just becomes a contest of wills and I don’t agree that this is good for him. I have thought about speech therapy but don’t really know what I should do. Could you give me some insight?

How many words should a 2 year old say? As a general rule, we look for children to have about 50+ words between the ages of 24-30 months. We also look for children to be attempting to imitate new words and also be starting to put words together into 2 word phrases, such as “Mommy go” or “more juice”. Since you listed about 9 consistent words that your son has and one 2 word phrase and his reluctance to repeat new words, he sounds like he would indeed qualify for early intervention speech therapy. At his age we are not concerned about clarity of speech and only start to look at articulation at age three. I would suggest going ahead with a speech evaluation for your son through your local early intervention provider. If your son is getting frustrated by not being able to communicate, you can build in some simple sign language signs that he can use to get his wants and needs met. You can also work on fun sounds during play, such as animal sounds and environmental sounds (“ding dong” the doorbell rang, “boom” the blocks fell over, “beep beep” goes the car). You can keep a word list on your fridge so that you can encourage the words that you have already heard him say-there is no sense waiting him out if you have never heard the word before, but if he has said “bath” a few times then that is a word where you can persist a bit and see if he will repeat again. If your son is currently using a sipper cup, you can switch to using an open cup and/or straw cup for most seated meals which is good for oral motor strengthening and promotes more oral motor coordination than a sipper.

I am glad you had his hearing checked, because we often recommend that first, just to rule out concerns. It is fairly common for two year olds to be following directions well and understanding language (receptive language), but showing a slight delay in the number of words or phrases they are able to say (expressive language).

You’ll find some more information at our 24-36 month speech link and also information on articulation.