How Many Words Should My Child Be Saying? A Quick Guide To Vocabulary Development

Parents often wonder how many words their children should have at different ages. This seems like a simple question, but there's not always a simple answer. Vocabulary development can be relatively variable among children of the same ages.  However, there are some general guidelines:

  • Children typically speak their first word somewhere around 12 months. Some children, however, take up to 16 months to utter that long-awaited first word and this is still considered to be within the range of typical. 
  • At 18 months, children typically use around 50  (but we don't worry too much unless they have fewer than 10-20).
  • At 24 months, children usually have an expressive vocabulary of 200-300 words (but we don't worry too much unless they have fewer than 50).
  • At 3 years, children can have anywhere from 500-1,100 words in their vocabulary.
  • By 5-7 years, children have an expressive vocabulary of 3000-5000 words.

   It's important to note that when talking about vocabulary, we have to be careful to state what type of vocabulary we are looking at: expressive vocabulary (the number of words children use when they talk) or receptive vocabulary (which is the number of words children understand, and is almost always significantly higher than expressive vocabulary).  The above numbers represent expressive vocabulary, or the number of words children typically use at these ages.
   It's even more important to note that at least one study (Hart and Risley, 2006) found that the significant variability in children's vocabulary at the age of three was strongly related to the amount of talking parents did with their children. Specifically, they found that parents who used 'conversational' speech with their children (talking about what they did, what they saw and what they thought about what they did and what they saw-- basically just making conversation with their children on a regular and on-going basis) had children with significantly higher vocabularies and IQs at age three than children whose parents used mainly directive speech (get this, do that, come over here). The differences in language and IQ remained at age nine as well.


Talking on the Go

This is a book that is commercially available through ASHA The American Speech language and Hearing Association. It is a really great guide on how you can incorporate language in everyday activities.

Link to purchase "Talking on the Go"