Should a 2-Year-Old Speak Clearly?

Parents, especially first-time parents, can spend a lot of time wondering what’s normal and whether their child is on target developmentally. Luckily, many toddlers who are late or hard-to-understand speakers will catch up on their own. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, about 20 percent of children will be a bit delayed in their speech. However, you should be aware of a few warning signs of more serious problems.

Speech Patterns By the Second Birthday

By the time a toddler turns 2, she should be understood by other people about half the time. She will likely be saying at least 50 words, and can string together simple sentences of two or three words. At this stage, children should also be able to understand and follow-through on simple requests and comments such as “Put that cookie down” or “Let’s play outside before Mommy loses her mind.”

Speech Patterns by the End of the Second Year

According to KidsHealth, by a child’s third birthday, he should be able to be understood about 75 percent of the time. His vocabulary will likely have jumped to at least a hundred words, often many more. Kids should also be able to answer simple questions by the time they are about to turn 3 and should be starting to tell stories. These stories might be entirely made up for fun or be partial truths used to cover up how a treasured vase or plate got broken, or how his baby brother ended up crying on the floor. Figuring out which is which is one of the tricky parts of raising a toddler!

Encouraging Speech

To encourage toddlers to speak clearly, keep up conversation with them as much as possible. Ask questions, even if you can’t always understand her answers. Don’t use baby talk. Aside from being infuriating for those around you, it doesn’t demonstrate proper speech patterns for your toddler. Read to your child as much as possible. Setting aside some time each evening for story time can help your child’s speech development, and it’s also a nice way to spend time together.

When to See a Doctor

If your 2-year-old doesn’t seem interested in trying to copy words or uses pointing and gesturing rather than speaking, consider taking him to his pediatrician. When a child can’t be understood by even his parents or frequent caregivers, consult a medical worker.


  • KidsHealth: Communication and Your 2- to 3-Year-Old
  • Mayo Clinic: Toddler Speech Development
  • Healthy Children: Language Delay

About the Author

Kathy Gleason is a freelance writer living in rural northern New Jersey who has been writing professionally since 2010. She is a graduate of The Institute for Therapeutic Massage in Pompton Lakes, N.J. Before leaving her massage therapy career to start a family, Gleason specialized in Swedish style, pregnancy and sports massage.

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