Signs of speech and language delays in a 1-year-old - Learning Time HK

Signs of speech and language delays in a 1-year-old

Children develop at a rapid pace. In the first year alone, they go from having bad color vision, no ability to move, and no ability to produce language to being able to sit, crawl, stand, babble, and even say their first words. Speech and language development are particularly important in the first couple years, but before we dive into it, there is a distinction to be made between the two. 

Speech vs. Language 

Speech is the production of language and involves articulation, voice, and fluency. 

  • • Articulation: How parts of our mouth, lips, and tongue move to create sounds and words. Children who struggle with this may have difficulty pronouncing ‘r’ or ‘th’ sounds. 

  • • Voice: How our vocal cords and breath create sounds. Some children may be okay in articulation and fluency but have difficulty speaking at a consistent volume. 

  • • Fluency: The rhythm of speech. Children who struggle with fluency may stutter. 


Language can be looked at more holistically than speech. It involves:

  • • Receptive language: Understanding what others are saying 
  • • Expressive language: Speech and communication of information 
  • • Processing language: Auditory perception and organization of information 


Signs of delay in speech and language

Number of words 

  • • If your child says less than 50 words by 20 months, it may be a sign of speech delay.



  • • Most children understand around 300 words by 2 years old. You can gauge your child’s comprehension by how well they understand requests.


Communicating with others

  • • Your child may rarely use words when communicating and talks very little in social situations. They may prefer hand gestures over words. 


Production of sounds 

  • • If your child uses a limited number of sounds to produce words, they may struggle with articulation. Further, you should be able to understand about 50% of what your child says by 2 years. 


Imitating sounds 

  • • Your child may have trouble imitating sounds that they overhear. Try to make different sounds of the alphabet and see if your child can imitate you. 


Tone of voice 

  • • If you notice an unusual tone of voice, such as a nasally or raspy voice, it may be a problem with voice or articulation. 


Importantly, while these can be signs of a speech delay, they don’t always indicate one and it doesn’t always mean that they need speech therapy. If you are concerned, you can consult your pediatrician. You can also try out different activities and techniques to encourage speech and language development at home. 

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