Tracking My Son’s First Words

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Like many parents, I kept track of my son’s earliest words for his scrapbook. Then, I read a fantastic book about language development called How Babies Talk: The Magic and Mystery of Language in the First Three Years of Life.

The book explained how toddlers go through a “language explosion” – a point where they go from learning a word daily (or every few days) to as many as 10 words a day. The language explosion typically happens around 18 months or after a child has around 100 words. I read the book when my son was around 18 months so I decided, why not stick with it? It would be fun to track his language burst.

It took longer than I planned. My son didn’t have his language explosion til close to 200 words and after his second birthday. It just goes to show all kids are different!

I included sign language in my tracking (you’ll see it in the chart with “(sign)” after the word). I thought it was important to include because it is a learned form of communication. In the early talking months, my son used a combination of words and signs and it was extremely useful. (If you’re interested in baby sign language, Tiny Signs is an amazing online course and Lane Rebelo’s book is a great resource, too.)

Our pediatrician said at 18 months, she wasn’t concerned about a speech delay unless a child had less than 20 words. My son had 60.

He was learning about 20 words and signs a month from 18-24 months. We talked with him non-stop and read lots of books every day. My son would repeat words when asked but he wasn’t repeating words he overheard (in conversation, in music, or on television) until around 2 years old.

His language explosion started around 25 months. We definitely noticed it, too, because he was repeating everything and saying a few new words a day. He also started stringing words like “What’s this?” and “More, please!” What I found interesting was he wasn’t just stringing words – he was also stringing together signs that he knew. Sometimes he would say one word and sign the other. At 26 months, he started picking up words even faster, started stringing words, saying sentences (3 or 4 words), and even singing songs.

The chart as a whole

Even without seeing the individual words, you can see how much it sped up over time. Pretty amazing.

One reason I’m sharing this on a blog focused on sound is because hearing is a crucial element in learning spoken language. In a speech evaluation, a speech pathologist (SLP) will ask if a child has passed hearing tests or how many ear infections they’ve had. When a child has an ear infection, they may not be able to hear the nuances of syllables and words as well as when their ears are clear or pain-free. That’s why there’s a connection between speech delays and children who have had a lot of ear infections.

If you suspect a speech delay, it’s not something you want to wait out to get an evaluation. Early language issues and delays compound over time so even a little early intervention can have a big effect. Speech therapy is all about play and fun when they’re working with kids.

If you want to see another good example of a language burst, check out this father who tracked his son’s first words. His son’s language burst started right at 18 months. (Thank you to Reddit user Jonjiv for explaining how he tracked his data and made his charts!)

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