I don’t know if you have ever come across Margaret Wild’s book, Chatterbox, but it is a lovely story about Daisy the baby who will not say a word. The family try everything to coax her into talking but she won’t. Then one day, Daisy opens her mouth …and out comes a stream of sentences and questions about the world and everything in it, much to her family’s complete surprise!

I feel that we are having a similar experience with Immy. By 17 months, I was starting to worry that Immy was a little slow to communicate verbally. Whilst she was clearly understanding everything said to her (often understanding way too much!) and communicating her intentions wonderfully non-verbally, using gestures, facial expressions and a little signing, she appeared to have little interest in or need to talk very much.

As a baby, she did all the ‘normal’ pre-talking type noise-making stuff that a baby is meant to do, babbling away to herself or in ‘conversation’ with you. She was even clearly making cute ‘mama’ sounds at 9 months, much to Dada’s disgust!

By 12 months she was irregularly saying ‘Dadda,’ ‘Mumma,’ ‘boo’ and ‘bye’ but was much more interested in two key sounds, ‘Brooooommmm,’ for anything remotely vehicle related and ‘Miaow,’ for her favourite animal (cars, motorbikes and cats continue to be her favourite things in the world!) She also included plenty of toddler gobbledygook to herself while playing, with lots of varying tones and pitch.

By 18 months she had accumulated 12 words that she used regularly but didn’t show much interest in learning any new ones.

And then all of a sudden, at 19 months she has started adding new words by the dozen and trying to repeat all sorts of words that she hears. It’s like someone flipped a switch and now I have a Chatterbox in the making!

I know that like all things to do with development, the age at which toddlers begin to use recognisable words varies greatly. It was by sitting down and looking at my notes about her progress over time and comparing my little notations to current information about speech development that I felt assured that she was still within the typical range of development.

I try to take a few moments at least once a month (usually on her birth date) to write down Immy’s latest milestones including what she sorts of things she is doing, toys and games she likes, words she signs and says, foods she likes, and any new experiences (like our recent visit to the Royal Show). I find this information great for looking back over as it is amazing how quickly you forget what your baby did and when (probably due to the regular sleep disturbances I am guessing!) Keeping a little notebook with this information is definitely something I would suggest all new Mums doing.

For those who are interested, this is some of the current information about speech development that I found useful;

The most intensive period of speech and language development for humans is during the first three years of life, a period when the brain is developing and maturing. These skills appear to develop best in a world that is rich with sounds, sights, and consistent exposure to the speech and language of others.

There is increasing evidence suggesting that there are “critical periods” for speech and language development in infants and young children. This means that the developing brain is best able to absorb a language, any language, during this period. The ability to learn a language will be more difficult, and perhaps less efficient or effective, if these critical periods are allowed to pass without early exposure to a language.

Milestones in Speech and Language, National Institute of Health, Maryland.

There’s more variation at this time in language development than in any other area. While some develop language skills at a steady rate, others seem to master words in an uneven manner.

Infant and Toddler Health, Mayo Clinic.

Milestones – Birth to 5 Months

  • Reacts to loud sounds.
  • Turns head toward a sound source.
  • Watches your face when you speak.

6 to 11 Months

  • Understands “no-no.”
  • Babbles (says “ba-ba-ba” or “ma-ma-ma”).
  • Tries to communicate by actions or gestures.

12 to 17 Months

  • Uses several words meaningfully.
  • Attends to a book or toy for about 2 minutes.
  • Follows simple directions accompanied by gestures.
  • Answers simple questions nonverbally.

Milestones in Speech and Language, National Institute of Health, Maryland.

Somewhere around 18 months, most children have a surge in their vocabulary – what researchers call a ‘word spurt’ – where they begin learning new words at a rate of one or two a day.

1-2 Years Speech Development,

By 18 months:

  • she ‘talks’ in her own babbling language
  • she can point to objects when they’re named
  • she uses six or more words
  • she speaks a few single words and can ask for simple things
  • she responds when her name is called
  • she enjoys singing, listening to music and being read to

By 2 years:

  • she has 100 words in her vocabulary. Many of these words will be unclear but they will have meaning
  • she is beginning to join words together to form simple phrases
  • she can say her own name
  • she repeats the last part of sentences

1-2 Years Speech Development,

It’s reassuring to know that Immy is within the normal range of development. I am sure it won’t be long before I am complaining that she talks too much and that I never get any quiet! I just hope she is not one of those children who is incessantly asking, ‘WHY?’


  1. As I think you know my son hardly said a word until he was 18 months and then it began very quickly and it was not long before one could hold a simple conversation with him. My problem was that his sister was very verbal by about 12 months but I now realise you should never judge a child's development by that of an older sibling or even by what the children of friends etc do. They are just all so different.

  2. Thank you for the informative post. My daughter is 12 months old and is starting to talk, so I'll be watching with interest based on the info in your post.
    I don't know if you'll be spared the WHY phase though – all the little children I know have been through it. Let's just hope it's a short phase for the both of us 🙂

  3. Karen Ormerod says:

    I was told by a child speech pathologist that they can now attribute a 5 year old's literary skills to the age at which they commenced reading activity with their parent/s. She cited a study that detected different levels of competence in children who had been read to from 6m or 12m 0r 18m etc. As a result of this plus an electrical short in our house the same week we got rid of the TV and joined the library! Three years on we are a household of avid readers…and talkers!

  4. I have found the same as Mimsie – my older son was slower to get going (around 18 months) but then started chatting very quickly. I'm finding that number 2 is very communicative even now at 12 mo (more words and ways of signalling what he wants then my older son had at the same age). Obviously, I don't know how it will go from here, but I find generally that my eldest will watch and take things in before trying new things, whilst my youngest will try and try and try again until he gets it.

  5. SquiggleMum says:

    I have to say that I think teachers are the worst for expecting our kids to talk early! Time and time again I have reassured other teacher-mums that their children are completely normal in their speech development. I'm not sure why exactly, but we all seem to think that when they turn one they'll start talking, and this isn't usually the case. So we go back to our uni texts on early childhood development and re-read that the word spurt happens at around 18-24mths. I wonder why we get it in our heads that it should happen sooner than this…?

  6. Alice Phua says:

    My son who is now almost 17 months old is also like your toddler – not wanting to talk so much or at all, yet seems to understand what I say to him or what I asked him to do. Then all of a sudden, he started saying the word that I never heard him say before! Later on, when I asked him to say the word again, he kept mum. So I guess he probably knows how to say certain words, it's just that it depends on his mood whether to say it or not.

  7. Thank you for posting all that – good to keep getting the message out there about what is "normal" – and what a wide range it is! The 8-24 month tange is HUGE for language development….

    @Diane – I think that soft toy books or bath books to chew on are an awesome early toy for bubs 🙂 Doesn't matter how you're exposed to books!

  8. Christie Burnett says:

    I think sometimes we expect first children to speak early as we spend so much time talking to them (or maybe the problem is that we talk for them!)

    Karen, I have read with Immy every day since she was a very tiny bub and engage her in conversation all of the time.

    Cath, I think as teachers we expect talking to start early as we do read and talk and engage them as we are 'supposed' to!

  9. My youngest just turned 19 months, and I can't believe how quickly she's picking up words now! They clearly do have phases where they develop very rapidly. One of the most important points to me, in the research you indicated, is that though words may not be easily recognized, they still have meaning and are therefore "words." I remember worrying that my oldest son didn't have that many words because many of them sounded exactly the same ("ba" for "ball," "book," "bean," etc). But as long as your child is communicating, that's what's important. Now all my kids are chatterboxes, and I don't even mind the "why" questions! The only thing that gets me is my oldest, now 6 years old, asking questions I can't begin to answer, like "What's inside a mountain?" Who encouraged him to ask so many questions, anyway?

  10. I have read the book Chatterbox to both my kids – they love love it…

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