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Speaking About Speaking!

Our journey this year has brought us a long way. Of course, it’s hard to cover the complexity of language development in just a few short articles, but some basic stuff from a pro is better than nothing! That being said, let’s move on to the next step of our journey: speaking.

There’s so much to say about language expression that it’s hard to know where to start! To make it easy, let’s start with the first year and we’ll stick mostly to spoken language. Muscles and brains develop and work together in a complex way to bring about first words. As the brain is soaking in everything happening around it, intentional muscle control is developing in the voice box, palate, tongue, lips, cheeks, jaw, etc. Then, everything has to coordinate to make a group of sounds we can call a spoken word. 

Let’s pause here to clarify something: To us in this field, a word is any group of sounds that consistently refer to the same thing. When a toddler always says “dada” for “cup”, then that’s a word. Same with “teetee” for “soother”. These are just examples, with the key message being: don’t underestimate a toddler’s vocabulary just because they don’t say words perfectly. As long as they’re referring to the same thing using the same group of sounds, it’s a word. Signs are also counted as words.

So, when are they supposed to say their first word? On average, by 12 months old, with the range being 11 to 14 months old. And most first words will be nouns and verbs…what the child can see or experience in their environment, such as “mom” or “up”. 

Sometimes, toddlers speak earlier. And that’s great! Sometimes, they speak later. When that happens, it’s important to take a closer look. It doesn’t mean there’s a problem; it just means that there could be a few things we can do to help bring things along. It never hurts to reach out to your Friendly Neighbourhood Speech Pathologist for a few tips!


Mohamed (Mo) Oshalla, MHSc.,
Speech-Language Pathologist & Executive Director,
Ontario Speech & Language Services


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