Late talking, what does that mean exactly?

Late talking, what does that mean exactly?

Often doctors will sometimes doctors label kids “late talkers,” but what does it mean exactly? In other words, when will your baby catch up and no longer be a “late talker.” Late talking means that their expressive vocabulary is behind that of their peers. This is your doctor’s way of reassuring you that your baby will catch up to their peers. But some children have been “late talkers” that had difficulty catching up. So, where does your child fall?

Studies have shown that a toddler’s ability to understand others (receptive language) is a better predictor of their expressive language outcome than their ability to express words. 

But, receptive language can be tricky to assess, and a licensed SLP should be the one to assess these skills to help provide the best treatment plan to help your child. If you are unsure of where your child should be, look no further!

What should my child be doing?

As always, the developmental milestone charts are mildly flexible, and you shouldn’t be worried if your child is one or two months off. This period for children is an exponential growth period for speech and language. They will go from one day saying two words to the next day saying 50! Here are some developmental norms for what your child should be doing and some activities that you can do at home to promote speech and language.

Four – Six months

Comprehension Communication

Moves eyes in the direction of sounds Coos and babbles when playing alone or with you

Responds to changes in your tone of voice Makes speech-like babbling sounds like pa, ba, and mi

Notices toys that make sounds Giggles and laughs

Pays attention to music Makes sounds when they are happy or upset

What you can do at home: respond to your child when they make noises, imitate the sounds back to them, imitate the faces they make, teach them to imitate actions (e.g., peek a boo, bye-bye, blowing kisses), and laugh when they do.

Seven months – 1 year

Comprehension Communication

Turns and looks in the direction of sounds Babbles long strings of sounds, like mimi upup babababa.

Looks when you point Uses sounds and gestures to get and keep attention.

Turns when you call their name Points to objects and shows them to others.

Understands words for everyday items/people (e.g., cup, truck, juice, daddy) Uses gestures like waving bye, reaching for “up,” and shaking his head no.

Starts to respond to simple words/phrases (e.g., no, come here, want more?) Imitates different speech sounds. 

Plays games like peek-a-boo and pat-a-cake Say 1 or 2 words, like hidogdadamama, or uh-oh. This will happen around his first birthday, but sounds may not be clear.

Listens to songs and stories for a short time  

What can you do at home? Firstly, talk about what you are doing during the day (e.g., “you are eating peas – YUM). Secondly, talk about where you are going, what you do there, and what/who you will see (e.g., we are going to grandma’s house. She has a dog, and you can pet the dog), teach animal sounds. Lastly, read every day to your child, and talk to them in the language you are most comfortable using.

One – Two years

Comprehension Communication

Points to a few body parts when you ask Uses a lot of new words.

Follows 1-part directions, like “Roll the ball” or “Kiss the baby.” Uses pbmh, and w in words.

Responds to simple questions, like “Who’s that?” or “Where’s your shoe?” Asks questions, like “What’s that?”, “Who’s that?” and “Where’s kitty?” 

Listens to simple stories, songs, and rhymes. Puts 2 words together, like “more apple,” “no bed,” and “mommy book.”

Points to pictures in a book when you name them. Starts to see images in books.

What can you do at home? Firstly, talk to your child as you do things and go places. Use short, grammatically correct words/sentences that your child can imitate. Secondly, talk about environmental sounds you hear in the house or outside, play with sounds during bath time, add words to what your child says (e.g., if the child says “dog,” you can say, “yeah, that is a big brown dog”). 

Lastly, read to your child every day, and while reading, talk about the pictures in the book rather than focusing on the words, and have them point to/name the images you see in the book.


Fisher, E. L. (2017). A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Predictors of Expressive-Language Outcomes Among Late Talkers. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research60(10), 2935–2948. doi: 10.1044/2017_jslhr-l-16-0310

Birth to One Year. (n.d.). Retrieved from

One to Two Years. (n.d.). Retrieved from

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