When talking to parents about language development there are two things that need to be considered: expressive and receptive language.
While many parents worry that their children “need” to have 10-20 words by the time they reach 15 months, I am just as interested in a toddler’s receptive language. In other words, does their 15-18 month old child understand what they are saying to them (when they want to?).
It is very important for this age child to understand simple statements and to be able to follow a one step direction. Examples being, “where is your nose?”, “go get me the ball”, “point to the picture of the moon in the book”. As a parent you are doing this all day long, probably without even realizing how much they are understanding (when they want to). Observing your child develop receptive language shows you that your child’s brain is working away at developing language and comprehension.
Some children will have later expressive language than others. There are 1 year olds that have 8-10 words and there are 15 month olds that are just acquiring that many words. But, just like you will someday help teach your child to read, you are teaching your toddler language by talking to them, reading to them and then suddenly your realize that they are saying a few words. You can’t “make” them say bye-bye, or thank-you but you can say these things over and over and know that they may comprehend before they actually talk. Most children have jargon or chatter as well as words and that too is a good sign of language development.
Language acquisition is fascinating, and there is a wide range of normal. It is true that boys are often later talkers than girls. I also think 2nd, 3rd, 4th children may also have later expressive language, but earlier receptive language...it seems the older sibling gives them commands that the younger child follows, but the older child also “talks” for the younger sibling. Those first children just can’t stand not to be the boss (birth order, another fascinating topic).
So, remember just to keep reading to your child, talking to them about everyday life and magically language evolves. Remember too, receptive language is an important milestone in your child’s development so give them some “things to do” and see what happens....you may be amazed at all of the things they do know how to do and how much they comprehend as well.