Understanding Toddler Speech: Speech Milestones at 18 Months

By Rajini D

Last Updated: December 4, 2023

Embarking on the journey of understanding a toddler’s language development is akin to unraveling the mysteries of a blossoming mind. At 18 months, these tiny humans are teetering on the brink of linguistic discovery, each babble and coo a step towards unlocking the vast world of communication. Yet, within this delicate dance of words, there exists a spectrum of development—neuro-typical children following the well-trodden path, and neuro-divergent children charting their unique course.

Understanding the verbal skills of an 18month old: 

In this exploration, we delve into the intricacies of an 18-month-old’s language milestones, comparing the normative with the nuanced, and deciphering the tapestry of communication that weaves through the formative years of childhood.

Word Count:

The 18-month-old adventurers take their first tentative steps into the linguistic jungle, armed with a vocabulary that includes everything from “mama” to “cookie” and a few mysterious sounds only decipherable by their doting parents. At 18 months, children typically have a vocabulary of around 50 words. However, it’s crucial to note that there’s a wide range of normal development, and some children may have more or fewer words.

Verbal skills:

At 18 months, children are still developing their language skills, so their ability to express themselves verbally is limited. However, they typically start to use a variety of gestures, sounds, and a few words to communicate their needs and wants. Nonverbal communication, such as pointing, reaching, and making eye contact, becomes crucial during this stage.

While their vocabulary may be small, their understanding of language is expanding rapidly. They may be able to follow simple instructions, recognize familiar objects, and respond to familiar faces. Keep in mind that each child develops at their own pace, so there can be a wide range of language abilities among 18-month-olds. It’s essential to encourage their communication efforts and provide a supportive environment for language development.

Neuro-typical vs. Neuro-divergent:

Neuro-typical children generally follow a more predictable language development path, acquiring speech and language skills within the expected timeframe. Neuro-divergent children, such as those with autism spectrum disorder, may show variations in language development. Some may have delayed speech, while others might have advanced language skills in certain areas.

Comparison Chart

MilestoneNeuro-typical ChildNeuro-divergent Child
Vocabulary at 18 monthsAround 50 wordsVariable, may be fewer or more
Receptive SkillsUnderstands simple instructionsVaried, may have challenges with comprehension
Expressive SkillsBeginning to combine wordsMay have difficulty forming sentences
CommunicationDeveloping basic gestures and pointingMay use alternative communication methods (e.g., AAC devices)

Speech Milestones at 18 Months:

There are diverse ways in which toddlers at this stage express themselves as they navigate the early stages of language development.

Vocabulary expansion:

The 18-month-old toddlers would try experimenting with new sounds and words by playing with their tongues. They try to repeat and remember every sound and word they hear. Their vocabulary would be around 50 words, by this age. Of course, this number would include their inventions too!

Word combinations:

Your 18-month-old will by now start to try different word combinations to express. These words need not always be perfect. They mostly try to fit in the apt word from what they hear every day. Such words can also contain simple sounds like, “bus drr..” for saying that bus is going. Their communication may not be proper but it is almost good enough that their parents and caretakers can understand. Slowly, they would begin to string two words together (e.g., “more juice”, “no milk” or “daddy bye-bye”).


Imitation plays a significant role in language development at this age. An 18-month-old can imitate familiar words and sounds. Toddlers around this age, try to learn what they hear by imitating. You would be surprised to hear the words you utter from the mouth of your little one! You might think that your toddler is just playing and involved in his world, but suddenly when he speaks your language, you would understand that he is also lending an ear to what you say!


Gestures become a crucial aspect of communication for 18-month-olds. Your one and half year toddler uses gestures to communicate needs or wants. He or she would nod the head for a “yes” or “no” and would point to the things they wanted. They also try to convey this through their facial expressions. These tiny toddlers would also try to use vocal sounds or make different noises when they want to be engaged.

Promoting Understanding:

Promoting your 18-month-old’s understanding involves incorporating simple yet effective strategies. Here’s a breakdown of the provided steps:

Use Simple Language:

  • Speak in clear and straightforward sentences. Use short words and phrases that are easy for your toddler to grasp.
  • Focus on daily activities and objects around them. For example, instead of saying, “Let’s go to the store,” you might say, “Time for shopping.”

Use Gestures and Point to Objects:

  • Combine your words with gestures to enhance understanding. Pointing to objects while naming them helps your toddler connect words with their corresponding meanings.
  • For instance, if you’re talking about a ball, physically point to the ball and say “ball” to reinforce the association.

Repeat Words Frequently:

  • Repetition is the key to language development. Repeat words during various activities to reinforce their meaning.
  • If you’re playing with a toy, consistently use the toy’s name. Repetition helps toddlers internalize and remember words more effectively.

Engage in Activities that Encourage Communication:

  • Reading books together is an excellent way to promote language skills. Choose colorful and interactive books with simple sentences. Point to pictures and describe them.
  • Play with toys that involve verbal interaction. Ask questions like, “What color is this?” or “Can you give me the blue block?”

These steps create a language-rich environment that supports your toddler’s understanding and communication skills. By incorporating simple language, gestures, repetition, and engaging activities, you foster an environment where your 18-month-old can actively participate in the learning process. It not only aids in language development but also strengthens the parent-child bond through shared interactions and activities.

Receptive and Expressive Skills:

At 18 months, toddlers are actively engaged in the development of both receptive and expressive language skills.

Receptive Skills:

These involve the understanding of language. At 18 months, toddlers are often better at comprehending words and sentences than expressing themselves verbally.

  • Understanding Language: Receptive skills involve the ability to understand and comprehend language. At 18 months, toddlers typically demonstrate a growing capacity to understand simple commands, familiar words, and gestures.
  • Following Instructions: They may be able to follow basic instructions, such as “come here,” “give me the toy,” or “wave bye-bye.” This indicates their receptive understanding of language cues.

Responding to Familiar Sounds: Toddlers at this age often respond to familiar sounds, such as their name or the sound of a favorite toy. They may turn their head or show recognition when they hear these cues.

Expressive Skills:

This pertains to using language to communicate. While receptive skills may be more advanced, expressive skills are still developing, and toddlers may rely on gestures and simple words to convey their thoughts.

  • Using Language to Communicate: Expressive skills involve the ability to use language to communicate needs, wants, and thoughts. At 18 months, toddlers are in the early stages of expressing themselves verbally.
  • Limited Vocabulary: While their receptive skills may be more advanced, their expressive vocabulary is still relatively limited. They may use simple words, gestures, or a combination of both to convey their messages.
  • Exploration of Sounds: Toddlers may engage in babbling, experimenting with different sounds and tones. They are laying the foundation for more complex verbal expression in the coming months.

Balance and Development:

  • Receptive Advancement: It’s common for receptive skills to be more advanced than expressive skills at 18 months. Toddlers understand more than they can express verbally, and they often rely on non-verbal cues to bridge the gap.
  • Gesture and Non-Verbal Communication: Expressive skills may include gestures, pointing, and facial expressions. These non-verbal forms of communication are crucial in helping toddlers convey their needs and desires.

Communication Strategies:

Here are some important strategies to improve your little one’s communication. Through their learning process, it is necessary to encourage them and work by going in their way.

Be Patient and Attentive:

  • Give your toddler time to process and respond to what you say. Patience is crucial as they navigate their growing understanding of language.
  • Be attentive to their cues, such as eye contact, gestures, or attempts at verbal communication. This helps you tune into their needs and responses.

Encourage Attempts at Communication:

  • Celebrate and acknowledge any attempts your toddler makes to communicate, even if it’s non-verbal. This positive reinforcement motivates them to continue trying.
  • Respond to their gestures, babbling, or any form of communication to show that you value their efforts.

Use Visual Aids and Gestures:

  • Incorporate visual aids like pictures or objects to support verbal communication. Pointing to pictures in a book or using props can enhance understanding.
  • Utilize gestures to complement your words. For example, wave when saying goodbye or point to the cup when asking if they want a drink.

Provide a Language-Rich Environment:

  • Surround your toddler with a variety of words and phrases. Describe everyday activities, objects, and feelings to expose them to a diverse vocabulary.
  • Engage them in conversations, even if they are one-sided. Narrate your actions and encourage them to participate in the “conversation” at their own pace.

In Conclusion:

Every child develops uniquely, and milestones may vary. It’s important to focus on individual progress rather than strict timelines, especially considering neuro-divergent children. Early intervention and support play a significant role in facilitating language development. Recognizing and addressing challenges early on can have a positive impact on a child’s communication skills.

By implementing these communication strategies and understanding the nuances of receptive and expressive skills, you create a supportive environment. Consequently, that fosters your toddler’s language development and overall communication abilities.

Frequently Asked Questions:

1. How many words should an 18-month-old typically say?

At 18 months, children generally have a vocabulary of around 50 words. This number can vary, as there’s a wide range of normal development.

2. What kind of verbal skills can be expected from an 18-month-old?

While their spoken vocabulary may be limited, 18-month-olds use gestures, sounds, and a few words to communicate. In addition to that, they also start understanding simple instructions and recognizing familiar objects and faces.

3. How do neuro-typical and neuro-divergent children differ in language development at 18 months?

Neuro-typical children usually follow a predictable path in language development. Neuro-divergent children, like those with autism, may have varied language skills, ranging from delayed speech to advanced abilities in certain areas.

4. What are the typical receptive and expressive skills of an 18-month-old?

Receptive skills include understanding language and following simple instructions. Expressive skills at this age are still developing, and toddlers might use simple words, gestures, or a combination of both to communicate.

5. How important are gestures in an 18-month-old’s communication?

Gestures are crucial for communication at this age. Toddlers use gestures to express needs and want, as well as non-verbal cues like facial expressions.

6. What role does imitation play in language development for 18-month-olds?

Imitation is significant in language development. Toddlers at this age often imitate familiar words and sounds they hear around them.

7. What strategies can help promote language understanding in an 18-month-old?

Simple language, frequent repetition, using gestures, engaging in interactive activities, and providing a language-rich environment are effective strategies.

8. How can parents and caregivers support an 18-month-old’s communication efforts?

Being patient and attentive, encouraging attempts at communication, using visual aids and gestures, and providing a language-rich environment are key strategies.

9. What does a comparison between neuro-typical and neuro-divergent children at 18 months reveal?

The comparison shows that while neuro-typical children generally have a vocabulary of about 50 words, neuro-divergent children’s language abilities can vary more widely.

10. Why is it important to focus on individual progress in language development?

Every child is unique, and milestones can vary, especially in neuro-divergent children. Focusing on individual progress rather than strict timelines is crucial for effective support and development.

About the Author:

Speech-Language Pathologist:

is a dedicated Speech-Language Pathologist with a focus on developmental speech
and language disorders in children and rehabilitation in adults. With a passion
for helping each individual find their voice, Rajini brings a wealth of
experience and a heartfelt approach to therapy. At Wellness Hub, she’s part of
a team that values innovation, compassion, and results-driven practices.

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