Parents of young children often express concern regarding their child’s speech and language development, as they do not know what is “normal.” While there is a wide range of what is considered “normal” at the age of one, the following milestones should help provide a general guideline of what is expected at this age.

Verbal Language
One-year-old children babble and vocalize to get and keep attention and often use exclamations such as “uh-oh.” Most children this age attempt to imitate speech sounds produced by adults and older children who interact with them. By a child’s first birthday, he should be producing at few words (e.g., mama, dada, ball, hi). These words are usually approximations of the adult model (e.g., “mama” for mommy; “muh” for more, “buh” for ball). While some children add words quickly once they begin talking, others do not. As a general guideline, by 18 months of age, a child should have a minimum of 10 words or word approximations that she uses consistently.

One year olds use a variety of gestures to help them communicate their wants and needs. For example, babies point to objects that they want, wave “bye bye,” and reach their arms up to indicate they want to be picked up. Use of gestures to communicate nonverbally is an important prerequisite to functional verbal communication.

Understanding Language
Children around the age of one can recognize names for common objects and people (e.g., book, bath, Nana, milk). Although one year olds generally say only a few words, their receptive vocabulary (i.e., words they understand) is much broader. Children generally have a receptive vocabulary of approximately 50 words at the time of their first birthday. Additionally, one year olds understand simple instructions such as “come here” and “sit down.” Children will also be able to respond to their own name and to “no” by the time they are one year of age.

Social Language
Babies begin to display the beginning stages of social language from a very early age, responding to human voices by smiling and cooing and responding appropriately to friendly and angry tones. By the time they are one, they should be very aware of the social value of speech and be using sounds, gestures, and words to engage with others. One year olds vocalize and say “mama” and “dada” to gain attention, point to objects to show them to another (i.e., joint attention), play social games such as peek-a-boo, and wave “hi” and “bye.”

Activities to Encourage Your One-Year-Old’s Language

  • Play simple games with your child such as “peek-a-boo” and “pat-a-cake.” These are simple, fun, and predictable games that can elicit one of your child’s first words.
  • Each week, pick an easy, functional word (e.g., up, go, more). Use it as much as possible throughout the day. Then designate 5 to 10 minutes of playtime everyday where the play is based around that word being modeled, spoken, and understood. Move to the next word when your child is understanding and using the word (or a word approximation) consistently.
  • Tell nursery rhymes and sing familiar songs, leaving off the last word of a line. Give a long pause to see if your child will insert an approximation of the missing word.
  • Encourage all early efforts at saying a new word. Do not correct your child’s pronunciation. However, you can model it by repeating the word correctly. For example, if your child says “doo” for juice, you can say, “You want JUICE? Ok, I’ll get you some JUICE.”
  • Teach your child the names of everyday items and familiar people. For example, point out familiar objects when you are taking a walk in the stroller (e.g., truck, swing, bird).
  • Teach your child to sign. Babies as young as 6 months of age can learn simple sign language to help them communicate, as eye-hand coordination develops much earlier than verbal skills. This can help to stimulate language development while reducing frustration while your child is developing verbal skills.
  • Use simple, but grammatically correct, speech that is easy for your child to imitate.
  • Play with sounds while you are playing, at eye-level, with your child. Introduce her to the clock, who says “t-t-t-t.” Listen to the clock as it ticks. Practice making animal sounds while playing with farm animals. Blow bubbles and make the B sound. Play with a toy boat in the tub, who says “puh puh puh.”
  • Expand on words. For example, if your child says “car,” you respond by saying, “Yes! That is a big red car.”
  • Find time to read to your child every day. Try to find books with large pictures and one or two words or a simple phrase or sentence on each page. When reading to your child, take time to name and describe the pictures on each page