Throughout their twos, your child’s sentences may get longer, they may experiment with new parts of speech, their vocabulary may double (or even more), and they might start speaking in more complete sentences.
Other aspects can be more subtle, like being able to play and talk at the same time, or understanding (and following) two-step directions.
It’s important to note that language development is widely variable and much of it happens under the surface. A child who is slow to speak, for instance, is often developing a strong foundation of receptive language, meaning they can understand much more than they can articulate. Janet Lansbury says “talking takes courage. Relax, be patient and trust your child’s inborn timetable. Many patient parents I know have experienced their child’s verbal skills emerge overnight—a language “explosion.”
Here are some of the ways your two-year-old’s language might be developing:
Between 24 and 30 months, they might start using three-word sentences like “me want apple” or use short sentences to talk about things that have happened to them. You can support this by asking specific questions like “what book did you read with Grandma yesterday?” rather than “what did you do yesterday?”
Between 33 and 36 months, they may start repeating sentences of up to five words that you speak or read.
They say, “pasketti,” you say, “spaghetti”
By 30 months, your child may have an expressive vocabulary—words they can speak—of 50 or more words. Recording these words can be fun, and you can even make your own picture book out of them. Between 30 and 35 months, your child may have an expressive vocabulary of 200 words or more.
Experts recommend repeating your child’s words with your own pronunciations rather than correcting them; modeling “proper” usage is more helpful to your child than constant corrections. For example, if your child says “want pasketti” you can simply say “here’s your spaghetti!”
“Me want banana”
Understanding that short words like “I” and “you” can substitute for people they know is a major step forward in your child’s language development. Between 24 and 30 months, children often start to use “self-centered” pronouns, like me and mine. Pronouns start to show up in commands, too: “you give it” or “you come.”
One way to model correct usage of pronouns is to repeat a sentence or phrase back to your child like this: if your child says “me want banana,” you can say “oh, you want a banana? I want a banana too. Here you go.”
The correct and consistent use of I and me (and related words like mine, my, and I’m) can start as early as 27 months, but can take well into your child’s threes to fully integrate. Narrating what you do when your child is watching is a great way to model. For example, when you’re getting dressed, you can say “I’m making sure the tag side of my pants is touching the floor, then I slip my feet into each of the leg holes.”
How, why, what, who, and when
Between 34 and 36 months, your child’s questions often get more complex, and start with adverbs like how, why, what, who, and when. Reading books is a great opportunity to encourage this habit: you can ask questions like “where did the rabbit go?” and “why did that person’s friend get so mad?”
Past, present, and future
Between 24 and 30 months, children often start using the past tense, usually overgeneralizing the suffix “ed” (“I runned,” “I goed”). If your child isn’t speaking about the past, you can try asking simple, direct questions: “what did we do at the park yesterday?” or “what did we eat for breakfast?”
By 30 months, your child may help you tell a familiar story, or even try one entirely on their own. One of the many reasons reading to your child is so helpful is that it helps them understand narrative structure, which is a precursor to reading. When you tell a story (whether fictional or real) that your child knows well, you can ask sequential questions: “what happens next?” and “after that, who knocked on the door?”
At around 34 months, your child may start asking question words starting with “when,” like “when are we going?” This is an opportunity to answer with a complete sentence: try saying “we are going to leave right after your nap” instead of a simpler answer, like “right after your nap.”
Something to keep in mind
Telling a two-year-old to “use their words” when they’re gesturing, whining, or crying isn’t always fair; sometimes they truly don’t have the words yet. You can help by giving your child the language they need to express what matters to them: “I can see that you want that book, but it’s too high for you to reach. Can you say ‘please hand me that book?’” Your child may not be able to repeat your sentence exactly—or even mostly—but even one or two words, like “please book,” can be empowering for them.
When to ask a doctor
Given the wide range of language development that is considered “typical,” it can be hard to know when to talk to your child’s pediatrician. Experts recommend checking with a doctor for a specific language evaluation if you can understand none—or only a couple—of your two-year-old’s spoken words. Language development is dependent on good hearing. If you have any concerns, please check with your child’s doctor.
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