I speak Italian, my wife French (but not often) and we live in UK.

The only clear word my son says is "mamma". He is actually quite talkative: he often takes the phone and starts "chatting" for a few minutes, but none of the words he says make sense.

Sometimes he repeats words someone else says, but just once. If we ask him to say it again he doesn't (in general he doesn't like repeating himself. E.g. if he waved goodbye he won't do it again until next time).

I know that multi-lingual children can start later, but I'm starting to be worried.


2 Answers 2


Children develop at their own speed. Especially language shows a lot of variation. Some start early and form complex sentences soon, others start early, stay at the one- or two-word stage for a looong time, then catch up and some are virtually mute, then improve drastically and "never stop talking" again. If you search around here at Parenting SE there are a few charts and anecdotal stories on this subject. (I will check and add links later, if I have time.)

Just to add one from my experience: 2nd birthday, both children are basically the same age (3 weeks difference).

Boy 1: "Paul, do you want whipped cream on your cake?"
Boy 2: "Paul cream want!"

If a child starts speaking late, there are a few things to consider:

  • Are his ears ok? That means, is he physically able to understand what you are saying. You probably would have noticed this already as a failure to react on acoustic triggers. If in doubt, have him screened.
  • Can he intellectually understand what you are saying. Failure to do so becomes quite apparent if you can't communicate with your child.

(None of these seem to be the case according to what you tell us, I have includes these for other readers.)

At 16 months, your child would typically be at the beginning of the one-word-sentence phase, would say some words and still struggle with a few sounds. Recent research indicates that children who grow up with two languages reach the typical milestones at around the same time as monolingual children, albeit not neccessarily in both languages. The Canadian organisation beststart.org offers a brochure for parents of multilingual children. The typical "explosion" of new words is at around 30 months, that's almost twice as old as your child is now. Be patient. There will be those days when you wish they were silent, especially after the umpteenth "But why?" question or when you really, really need a break ;-)


Our son is also 16 months and I was starting to worry slightly as he didn't seem to be saying any words until recently. He didn't even say Mama or Papa. I had read that at one year, children should be saying one or two words in addition to Mummy and Daddy. However, in recent weeks, we suddenly started to understand a lot of words from my son.

He currently only uses short, one syllable words and they're not very clear which makes me think that perhaps he was saying them sooner than we realised, we just didn't understand. I think we were also a bit strict with what we counted as a word but after reading up a bit, I found several sources that reassured me that the word doesn't need to be pronounced perfectly to count. So I started to count a few words that I didn't consider a proper word before. For example my son says dog without pronouncing the g but I count it because he says it in the correct context. I also started to count some things like animal noises.

I found these two questions and answers useful and reassuring:

How important is the pronunciation of a toddler's first words?

How to know if 12 month old is talking

Just prior to understanding some of his words, it started to become clear that our son was understanding more and more of what we said. Since your son understands what you say, I imagine that he will soon start saying some words. With our son, he went quickly from saying nothing which we counted as a word to now saying somewhere around 20-30 words. The first words we understood were things he was interested in like his shoes, dog, cat, duck. I would suggest listening carefully when he's excited about something he likes a lot and you may start to understand something that he's trying to say. Don't be too strict on the definition of a word.

We speak two languages to our son which as you say is generally accepted to cause later speaking and you are speaking three so I imagine that effect is multiplied. In addition to understanding what he's trying to say, you'll have to try and figure out which language it is.

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