Why Your 18 Month Old Might Not Be Talking But Understands What You Are Saying

by | Dec 15, 2023

As a parent, it’s normal for you to feel anxious if you feel like your child is not meeting developmental milestones at a “normal” pace. There are phases of development that children of the same age may be in different phases of, and that is okay!

If you find yourself worried about your 18-month-olds speech development keep scrolling for my thoughts and answers on the subject of why your 18-month-old might not be talking but understands what you are saying.

At what age should my child start talking?

Generally speaking, babies say their first word anywhere between 9-12 months of age. Typically babies are babbling around 6-9 months.

How many words should 18 month old be saying?

This is a bit of a loaded question. There is a wide range of “normal” for the number of words that your 18-month-old should be saying.

Your 18-month-old should say around 10-200 words. Again, this can vary widely because there is such a wide range. If your child can say around 10 words, then your pediatrician will likely say they are on track. There is no hard set rule on child speech development, rather widely varying normal ranges.

Related Post: How Many Words Should a 18 Month Old Say?

When does a word actually count as a word?

Counting words can be a little bit challenging because the word may not always be formed correctly. We count a word when it fits these criteria:

  • the word is used consistently
  • the word is used intentionally
  • the word is used independently

Surprising facts about which words count that you may not know:

  • The words do not need to be pronounced correctly to count!
  • Sign language absolutely counts
  • Animal sounds count
  • Environmental sounds count like “vroom” for a car “
  • Absolutely anything your child says intentionally, consistently, and in the right context COUNTS!

Finding it hard to keep up with words? Try using the notes app on your phone!

Simply write the word they say and what it stands for. Bonus! These can double as sweet memories later!


Wa Wa: Water

Signs “please”

Woof Woof – Dog

There Are Two Different Language Types

Did you know that there are 2 different types of language? Those being expressive and receptive language.

Expressive Language

Expressive language is how your child uses words and gestures to express themselves and communicate their wants and needs.

Here are some typical expressive language milestones for 18 month olds:

  • Having 10-50 words
  • Using gestures to communicate
    • Things like shaking head no, or pointing to show what they want

Receptive Language

Receptive language is how your child perceives the information that they are being told.

Here are some signs of receptive language in your 18 month old:

  • Pointing to a few body parts when asked
  • Following simple commands and understanding simple questions
    • Things like “Roll the ball,” “Kiss the baby,” and “Where’s your shoe?
  • Listening to and showing interest in simple stories, songs, and rhymes
  • Pointing to pictures in a book when named

Reasons Why Your 18-Month-Old May Understand What You Are Saying But Still Doesn’t Talk

Here are a few reasons why your 18-month-old may understand what you are saying but still doesn’t talk:

Speech Delay

There are several reasons for a speech delay, and we will jump into those below, but I wanted to share some signs of a speech delay:

  • not babbling by 9 months old
  • not gesturing (waving, pointing, etc) by 12 months old
  • not imitating sounds by 18 months old
  • not using words by 2, only sounds

Hearing Loss

If your child has undiagnosed hearing issues or hearing loss that can definitely be a large cause of a speech delay. Signs to look for include:

  • mumbling
  • inability to follow directions
  • delayed speech
  • not responding to sound
  • listening to the tv or music too loudly

Developmental Coordination Disorder

Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) or dyspraxia can cause delays in motor skills and is a neurological disorder. Occupational therapy can help this disorder, along with speech therapy.

Other Neurological Disorders

Other types of neurological and developmental disorders such as Autism, ADHD, etc can cause speech delays. Symptoms to look for can include:

  • sleep problems
  • poor impulse control
  • learning delays
  • speech delay
  • repetitive behaviors
  • sensitive to touch, light or sound
  • having trouble communicating

Bilingual Environment

In a bilingual environment, it is difficult for a child to know how to respond. If they speak at all, they will often start speaking a multi-language hybrid.

In these instances, it is best to start with one language and then around 6-7 introduce another language. This allows them to have time to develop a good grasp of the first language before introducing another.

How To Encourage Your 18 Month To Talk

There are several things that you can do to encourage your 18-month-old to talk. These are some of my favorite ways:

Read to them

Reading is a great way to expose your children to new words. The fun stories can help them to remember words and use them when speaking. Especially words like boom, crash, beep, etc.

Sign Language

I loved singing with my babies. Simple signs like, please, thank you, water, milk, and mom, and dad can be helpful in lessening the frustration of communicating basic needs while encouraging them to speak. I always sign and say the word simultaneously to encourage them to do the same.

Sing-A-Long Songs

Kiddos love sing-a-long songs. Cocomelon is a great one to turn on for kids songs. My kids loved the Ants go Matching song and loved to imitate the “boom” sounds!

Simon Says

Have your toddler imitate you with simple commands like “clap your hands” or “arms up”. You can even gently clap their hands or raise their arms to help them see what you are wanting. A lot of times, they will attempt to repeat the command.

Talk to Them

Talk to your babies and toddlers always! In the store, at home, walking in the park, even if you look like a crazy person! Then when they respond with an attempt to answer or vocalize, keep chatting and asking questions.

Related Post: How Does Reading Improve Speech for Your Child

Celebrate All Forms of Communication!

We get it! You may be focused on hearing your child say words correctly, but even when this is the goal – it can be helpful to take a step back and look for and celebrate other forms of communication.

Show your excitement when your child gestures, makes sounds, and attempts words. Celebrating these will show your child that what they are doing is important and that it is working.

Give Words to Them:

Instead of trying to get your child to speak the word you want, and risking them getting frustrated – give them the word they are looking for. For example if they are reaching or pointing at their cup that is just out of reach you could say “Drink! I want a drink please!”

Here are a Few of Our Favorite Products to Help With Encouraging Speech

Little People Sets

Little people sets are great for encouraging pretend play, noises, and sounds! Plus they fill that desire for filling and dumping that kids go through at this age.

Baby Doll

Baby dolls are one of the best toys for encouraging your little one to use their language.


Bubbles are perfect for helping toddlers learn to use their language. These no spill bubble containers are a perfect choice. Bubbles encourage your toddler to ask for help, learn to make fun sounds, and if you put them up out of reach where your toddler can see (but not reach) – bubbles is a fun word to learn when they start reaching for them!

Pretend Food

Pretend food is always a great way to get toddlers talking, gesturing, and communicating with you!

Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Why Your 18-Month-Old Might Not Be Talking But Understands What You Are Saying

As a concerned parent, you probably have lots of questions regarding why your 18-month-old might not be talking but understands what you are saying. Here are some of the most common questions.

When should I have my child evaluated for a speech delay?

If your child is not speaking at all around 18 months old, you should consider having them evaluated. There may be an underlying cause for the delay, as discussed above; however, the root cause needs to be addressed so your child can progress.

Related Post: Speech Regression: What Concerned Parents Should Know

Is my 18-month-old too young for speech therapy?

No, 18 months is not too young for speech therapy. Children with a known developmental disorder often start as babies.

When it comes to speech therapy, the sooner you start the better. As soon as the delay is identified, it is a good idea to start therapy. The good thing about therapy is that it will only improve your child’s development!

Can a child grow out of a speech delay?

Yes! Around 70-80% of children who have a speech delay will catch up to their peers, especially if intervention happens sooner rather than later.

The anxiety of your child meeting and exceeding the developmental milestones can be overwhelming. If your 18-month-old isn’t talking quite yet but understands what you are saying, it’s okay.

Remember to do your best, encourage your toddler, and consult your pediatrician if you have concerns about developmental delays. You’re doing great!

Do you have any tips on helping to encourage speech? Let me know in the comments below!