Do Boys talk later than girls?

By Prapoorna M

Last Updated: May 19, 2023

Suppose you are a parent or caregiver of a male toddler. In that case, you might have experienced certain differences in your child’s language development. Though you tend to give it an overlook, your friend or a colleague or maybe some neighbour can remind you how talkative her daughter is, who has the same age as your son. Concerns are sure to rise when you find your colleague’s daughter or a neighbouring little girl of the same age talking much and having much vocabulary compared to your son. Are you wondering why boys talk later than girls or how late it takes before they are termed as having speech delay? Well, this article is exactly for you.

Is it true that boys talk later than girls?

Statistics suggest that boys talk later than girls. On average, girls acquire language skills faster during the first few years of life than boys. But this difference will be just a few months. There is a normal range within which a child develops age-appropriate speech skills. If a child has not started to speak more than ten words even after four years of age, then it is clear that the child is showing the symptoms of speech delay. 

Do boys talk later than girls? Speech therapy helps the child
Speech therapist helping the child in Communication

Why do boys talk later than girls?

Studies have shown that language development varies between genders. Commonly, a male child speaks later than a female child. During pregnancy, the prenatal testosterone hormone has a major role to play in male fetal neurodevelopment. This hormone is associated with language delay in male children.

According to research conducted by Andrew Whitehouse of the University of Western Australia, Males exposed to the highest levels of prenatal testosterone are more prone to language delay than females. In fact, for females, these hormones act as a protective factor.

Other factors:

The play way methods also differ among boys and girls. Younger boys usually play with the toys such as cars and trucks, which engage them to play alone and be in their world. At the same time, girls play with dolls, an imitative kitchen set, a group of soft toys and so on, where they learn the idea of grouping and imitating. A girl child learns to be in groups, to fake conversations between dolls, to imitate the mother cooking in the kitchen, and to name and differentiate between her toys. All this involves a lot of talking and thinking, improving her cognitive aspects along with speech and language.

Also, the gross motor skills of boys improve during their preschool age, and they tend to run more, act more, and play more rather than speak. It is common for parents to think boys should be physically active by playing around rather than sitting and having conversations.

When are children termed as “late talkers?”

Though some children start talking late, they need not be termed “late talkers”. Just like the developmental milestones, every child needs to achieve speech milestones. A parent or caregiver must check if these are met. It is common to have a few months difference between kids of the same age to achieve milestones. But, if the child lags a significant amount of time, it could be a delay symptom.

If the child speaks less than ten words by age 18 to 20 months or even fewer words than 50 by age of 21 to 30 months of age, then the child is understood to be a late talker.

What are age-appropriate Speech milestones?

Let us look at the speech milestones to understand if the child is a late talker.

Observe your child's speech milestones
Observe your child’s speech milestones
  • Below three months of age: The baby cooes and responds to cooing sounds.
  • Between 4 to 6 months of age: The baby laughs, giggles, mouths bubbles, and makes playful sounds
  • Around 12 months of age: The baby makes sounds for a longer period like ba-ba-ba-ba-ba, ma-ma-ma-ma-ma, ta-tat-ta-ta-ta, or so on
  • Between 1 and 1.5 years of age: The baby starts using single-word sounds, mostly two-letter ones. They can be like ma-ma, da-da, meow, dog, etc.
  • By age 2: They try to converse meaningfully with two words like “daddy bye”, “doggy come”, “I want”, and so on.
  • By age 3: The baby develops some vocabulary with three words phrases like, “Let’s go out”, “I need water”, or “This is mine”, and so on.

Is it a risk if boys talk later than girls?

It is often seen that if girls around 16 months of age produce 100 words, boys have very little vocabulary and struggle with 30 words. But you might ask, “What if they speak late”? There are reasons why this might seem a subject of concern.

Boys are left with low confidence and low self-esteem without a good base of social communication skills at an early age. They might remain backwards academically and socially as they would not be proactive due to poor communication skills. 

When left untreated, late-talking boys develop speech delays in their school and college life until later adulthood. Needless to say, this highly affects their personal, social, and professional growth. This language delay affects the child’s ability to learn to read and write. Hence, if a preschool boy has a speech delay, responding as quickly as possible is important. At 3 or 4 years old, you cannot overlook the thought that a boy speaks late because there is a high chance that the boy might be having a speech and language delay if he has a very limited vocabulary by three years of age. 

What should be done to avoid speech delay?

Babies must see your face, mouth, and tongue in the first months of life to learn and talk. So we need to let them see to imitate the expressions and learn to talk. It is important to spend some time with them and repeatedly talk a few words for them to learn.

A child trying to speak
Speech therapy helps a child speak better

Babies and toddlers with speech issues need those visual cues to learn. If children don’t get social interaction at school or outside the house, there occur delays in speech and language.

How to make him talkative?

Here are some tips that you can implement to make him talkative.

  • Try to involve him in conversations. If not, let him listen to them and then try to model conversations like that later. Ask him to respond.
  • Try to grab his attention by following his interests. For example, boys are more interested in mechanical than human motion. They show interest in the movement of a ball, toy car, or something like that.
  • Talk to him as often as possible. Praise for little improvements with excitement in your tone. Try to have expressions on your face while you speak.
  • Try to use words or phrases that are relevant to the actions you do. For example, you can say, “Let’s go”, before you both leave out for something. Or say “cover off” while you remove the cover of something.
  • Take a 15-mins play time with your son every day, during which you kneel down to your son’s height to maintain good eye contact. Engage him in his favourite activity.

If you do all these activities, it is no wonder that your child will soon start developing age-appropriate speech skills. If your child doesn’t speak, instead of doing all the ones mentioned above, please do not sit back and wait. Get a speech assessment test to assess if the child is a late-talker. In that case, taking speech therapy sessions as early as possible would be very helpful in covering speech delay in children.

Does early intervention help late-talkers?

Yes, it does. If you find your child lacking age-appropriate speaking skills, then it is necessary to have a screening test. Audiologists initially advise a hearing test to check if the child is good at hearing. If hearing is fine, the speech and language pathologists do a speech and language assessment test. Depending on this assessment report, the SLP or Speech pathologist can make a therapy plan to address the speech issues.

Early intervention can help the late-talker pick up the speech skills soon. With continuous therapy sessions, the child can achieve speech milestones within a few months. The same is true for stuttering or stammering cases, mis-articulation, mispronunciation, or other speech-related cases. Wellness Hub has a group of specialized and RCI-certified speech therapists who can assist you offline and online with your child’s speech-related issues.