Should you be concerned if your two-year-old is not talking as much as his peers or his vocabulary is less extensive than other children around his age?

Not necessarily, according to Mr Goh Huai Zhi, Senior Speech Therapist at the Speech Therapy Department, Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth group.

Children develop speech and language skills at different speeds

That said, there are typical speech development patterns that parents can look out for. For example, your baby should start babbling and making reduplicated sounds by the time he is a few months old, said Mr Goh.

Reduplication refers to the repetition of certain sounds to make new “words”, like “bababa” or “kakaka”. As he grows older, your baby should start to string together different sounds to make speech-like phrases such as “ba-pa-ka”.

When your child is between one and three years old, the “one, two, three” rule (see below) should apply, said Mr Goh.

  1. A one-year-old child should be able to say simple words like “car”, “mummy” or “milk”.
  2. A two-year-old child should be able to join two words to form simple phrases, like “blue car” or “mummy milk”.
  3. A three-year-old should be able to speak short sentences of about three to four words in length, like “mummy drink milk” or “daddy drive car”.

When to be concerned about your child's speech development

Parents need not be too worried about their children’s pronunciation until the children are about three to seven years old. It is at around this time that they begin to be able to correctly pronounce consonants like B, P, M and H.

If your child doesn’t talk even when he appears very interested in the letters of the alphabet, or is able to identify letters like “A” or “Z” by the age of two, “you may want to be concerned, as this would be atypical”, said Mr Goh. The ability to recognise letters of the alphabet is a relatively advanced skill for a two-year-old so one would expect the child to be able to speak as well.

There are many reasons for delayed speech among children. A child might have an ear infection which affects his hearing, making it difficult for him to pick up sound cues from his parents.

Mr Goh remembers a child who “would not look at the person who called out to him. It was only after doctors have tested him that we realised that he had an ear infection”. He added that the child’s speech and language development improved greatly after the infection was treated.

Read on to learn about more serious conditions that can cause speech delay and what you can do, if you suspect your child is a late talker.

Ref: S13