Why Is My 20 Month Old Not Talking? Should I Be Worried?

Georgia Stone
Dec 12, 2023 By Georgia Stone
Originally Published on Feb 17, 2021
Delayed speech is perfectly normal, so if you're worried about your 20 month old not talking yet, it doesn't necessarily mean there's a serious underlying problem

Here at Kidadl, we know that toddlers are a law unto themselves!

From tantrums and picky eating, to growth spurts and sleep regression, there are so many different health and developmental areas that can lead to a few sleepless nights for us parents! But the important thing to remember is that it's all normal.

Children grow and develop skills at their own pace; it's not a competition with other parents and it isn't usually a cause for concern.

So whether you're looking for advice on the fact that you think your three-year-old's behavior is out of control or advice on a [three-year-old check up], Kidadl are here to help, with plenty of articles to bring parents the support and advice you need.

And if you're looking for speech and language developmental help for your 20 month old, this article is for you.

When Should My Child Be Talking In Full Sentences?

Your 20 month old is still learning fundamental speech and language skills, and is transitioning from baby talk to more recognisable speech. At this age, they should have around 12 to 15 words.

By around 18 to 24 months old, most children will know enough words to start linking them together into short two-word sentences. You might hear phrases such as "train go" when they're playing or "all gone" when they've finished a snack. There might not be any verbs or linking words, but they are complete little sentences nevertheless.

From age two onwards, as their vocabulary grows, kids may start to add a third word to their sentences, maybe a descriptive word or a pronoun like "my."

It won't be until after they turn three that most children will start to talk in longer, more 'full' sentences, that are typically between three and six words long.

Although they will still be simple in structure and topic, they will start to more closely resemble a typical sentence, and children will be capable of using them in a question and answer way, more like an adult conversation.

When Should My Child Be Saying Words?

After a good few months of babbling and trying their best to speak, most kids will start to form their first words at around 12  months old. Typically, they'll begin with the most important words ("Mama" and "Dada") and continue to add single-syllable words, that are easy to form, to their vocabulary.

Children will start using words that communicate a key need, such as "cup" when they're thirsty or "up" when they want a cuddle.

My Child Understands What's Happening But Doesn't Talk, What's Wrong?

Delayed speech is perfectly normal, so if you are worried about your 21 or 20 month old not talking at all, it doesn't necessarily indicate there's a serious underlying problem.

If your child isn't talking, but responds when you talk to them and uses other ways to communicate, for example pointing, shaking their head or sign language, this may indicate a general speech delay. If you have concerns, consult a doctor who may recommend seeing a speech language pathologist for advice, and to diagnose any potential issues.

It is worth noting that kids with conditions such as Autistic Spectrum Disorder usually present with a number of other developmental delays, other than just expressive language delay or late talking.

Late talkers generally meet developmental milestones in all other areas except expressive language, and so speech therapy will help children to catch up with those delayed skills and really improve their speech development.

A speech language pathologist might also determine that your 20 month old doesn't quite understand as much as you think. As parents, we sometimes give away little clues, for example looking at the toy car when we ask our child to bring us the car, which children often pick up on.

This is normal and doesn't necessarily indicate a delay, maybe just that we might be expecting or assuming too much!

My Child Is 20 Months Old But Is Still Babbling, What's Wrong?

The chances are, nothing is wrong! Between the ages of 18 to 24 months, children still do a lot of babbling, it's a perfectly normal part of speech development.

But at 20 months, it's a different kind of babbling than what you hear from a baby. Toddlers are capable of listening to adults and recognizing speech, but aren't yet fully equipped to communicate as we do. So toddler babbling is simply imitation of what they hear going on around them, they're practicing!

In a 20 month old child, you should be able to identify tone and body language to decode some of the babbling: are they angry or happy? And you should be able to pick out some identifiable words amongst their attempts at talking. If you can't do that, some intervention may be required.

When Should I Refer My Child For Delayed Language Development?

It can be really tricky for parents to determine whether their child is taking a little longer than the 'average' to reach a development milestone, or if there is a real language delay that requires intervention and therapy.

Either way, delays are not abnormal and your doctor will always be happy to talk to you about any concerns regarding your child's health and development.

These milestones, that sit either side of 20 months, may help you to decide if an intervention of speech therapy is necessary.

12 Months: Your toddler should be regularly using gestures, like pointing, waving and head shaking to communicate.

18 Months: Your toddler should be starting to prefer talking, or at least babbling and vocalizing, over exclusively using gestures. They should be able to imitate sounds and understand simple requests or directions.

24 Months: Your toddler should be confident in imitating speech, should be using words and little phrases spontaneously, should be able to communicate basic needs and follow simple directions.

Tips To Help With Language Development

Even if your child doesn't have a speech delay, it's always a good idea to get an early start and proactively encourage language development. Here are our top tips:

1. Your child will learn through hearing you talk and listening to how you interact with the rest of the family. So make sure you talk a lot! When you're with your child, name objects you pick up and describe what you do with them.

For example "Mummy is picking up the ball and putting it in the basket. Mummy is tidying up." Narrate as much as you can like it's a story.

2. Resist the urge to correct your child. Mispronunciation is a part of learning, so instead of telling them they're wrong, just repeat the correct pronunciation back to them. For example, your child may say "biscetti for dinner" and you could reply "that's right, spaghetti for dinner."

3. Explore hearing different animal sounds, so that your child understands different vocalizations.  

4. Read to your child often, and encourage them to point out the things they know. This will help with word recognition, confidence and imitation, and they'll enjoy the quality time with you, too.

5. Sing. Nursery rhymes are a great way to aid speech: they're short, catchy and often come with gestures that support children's understanding and recognition.

6. Play object hide and seek. This is an ideal game to figure out exactly which words and directions your child understands, and encourage them to learn new ones in a fun and engaging way.

7. Look at your child when you speak, so that as well as hearing you, they can see how your mouth and tongue move as you form different words.

8. Make sure you always speak slowly and clearly around your child so they can absorb what they're hearing, and figure out how to copy it.

9. It might drive you a little bit potty, but repeat everything, repeat, repeat, repeat! Repetition is the key to learning, and making sure your child has really taken it in.

10. Ask questions that include choices, so that children are encouraged to think about the different words you've used, what they mean, and the consequences.

If your family found this article helpful, then why not take a look at these articles about the [best baby ear protection] or [how to deal with baby sunburn]?

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Written by Georgia Stone

Bachelor of Arts specializing in French with Film Studies, Bachelor of Arts (Year Abroad) specializing in Literature, History, Language, Media, and Art

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Georgia StoneBachelor of Arts specializing in French with Film Studies, Bachelor of Arts (Year Abroad) specializing in Literature, History, Language, Media, and Art

Georgia is an experienced Content Manager with a degree in French and Film Studies from King's College London and Bachelors degree from Université Paris-Sorbonne. Her passion for exploring the world and experiencing different cultures was sparked during her childhood in Switzerland and her year abroad in Paris. In her spare time, Georgia enjoys using London's excellent travel connections to explore further afield.

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