1-2y Understanding of Language

What is it?

Children must learn to understand the language that they hear before they can use this language to communicate with others. A child’s understanding will usually be ahead of their ability to use spoken language.

As children grow and develop, the range of words that they understand will increase and they will be able to follow longer and more grammatically complex sentences.

What to expect?

By 2 years, children will usually:

  • Recognise and understand 200-500 words.
  • Understand a range of simple instructions, such as “Show me your eyes?” or “Get your shoes”.
  • Understand simple questions, such as “Where’s your ball?”.
  • Enjoy and remember action songs/rhymes.

Information & advice

You can help by:

  • Making sure your child is looking at you when you talk to them.
  • Naming familiar objects during every day routines so that your child learns what they are called.
  • Keeping your language simple and clear. Don’t use sentences that are too long or complex.
  • Using gesture to add meaning to words, e.g. use a drinking gesture when you say “Get your cup” instead of pointing to it.


  • Get down to your child’s level and ensure you are face to face when talking to them.
  • Watch and listen to what your child is doing and/or saying so you can then make comments on this.
  • Talk about every day activities such as making dinner as this will help your child to link the language you are using with the world around them.
  • Support what you say to your child with gestures and objects to help them understand the language they hear.
  • Further support understanding by giving your child choices from two or three items. For example, “Do you want a banana or an apple?”.
  • Look at books together and describe what you can see. You don’t have stick to just reading them word for word. Interactive books such as ‘Lift-the-flap’ books are ideal for this age group.
  • Sing action songs and rhymes with your child as this will help them to learn about the rhythm of language.
  • Play with your child and let them take the lead. Comment on what they are doing but remember to leave lots of pauses to give your child time to respond or start a conversation themselves.