My 2.5-year-old toddler has started saying words (more like noises) that me and my wife can sometimes understand, but they barley sound like the intended words. At what point should we start to get concerned? What can we do to help him develop proper pronunciation?

  • 3
    How many languages are spoken in your household? It matters because the number of languages your child is acquiring influences the age range of “normal” speech development. From what I’ve learned on this site anyway. We only speak English (and “Rhode Island-ese” as its sometimes called, lol) at home.
    – Jax
    Commented Aug 20, 2019 at 23:36
  • Does your son also say words that you do understand, or does he only say non-intelligible words? What does your pediatrician say on the matter? By this age I'd expect regular questionnaires addressing this and other developmental issues during your hopefully annual or more frequent checkups.
    – Joe
    Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 15:07
  • Not a complete answer, but, if you have any concerns about his speech, start keeping a diary of his “words” so you can accurately answer when the pediatrician (or whoever) asks you “Does he use 20 words? 50?” My pediatrician asked a similar question at all my kids’ 2 yr check up.
    – Jax
    Commented Aug 22, 2019 at 0:04

1 Answer 1


Here are some comparison tables on intelligibility of general speech development.

From the article, the speech of a 2.5 year old should typically be some 50-70% intelligible to strangers.

As for when intervention (by a speech-language therapist) is indicated, from the same article, the cited figure is when less than two thirds of utterances by a four year old should be intelligible.

I'm no SLT myself, but to me, this stresses how great the variation is within normal speech development. Obviously, norm data is culturally biased. As has been pointed out in comments, if you are bilingual, there are other normal ranges.

An SLT will be able to tell whether your child's speech development is within our outside of the normal range, and (if warranted) help you with concrete techniques for practicing problematic speech sounds. From what I gather, they will look for whether your child is progressing along an expected trajectory of speech development, rather than meeting specific age criteria, or whether he is showing phonological processes that are not expected during any point in normal speech acquisition.

In general terms, for encouraging speech in normal developing children, obviously engage with your child in communication. Two-way communication with the child is much more rewarding than just being immersed in a language-rich environment. If you're using a stroller facing away from you, you may want to consider turning it so that your child faces you when you're walking, to facilitate communication.

Lead by example. Provide your child with the correct pronunciation without pointing out that he has made something wrong, which may cause him to think that language is too hard or unrewarding. If your child says "Look. Big", you don't say "No no no, it's pig not big.", you say "Oh yes, I see the pig too".

  • Very nice answer, +1 and welcome! Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 14:52
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    I second anongoodnurse’s comment, great answer, and I’d like to add that the very first thing that was evaluated when I was concerned about my son’s lack of speech at age 2 was his hearing. He had a very very thorough evaluation of his hearing. One that didn’t require his cooperation so the results were accurate. He ended up needing intervention (not bc of his hearing) but, unlike the OP’s child, he wasn’t really making any sounds at all.
    – Jax
    Commented Aug 21, 2019 at 23:59

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