Help! No One Understands What My Toddler is Saying

Updated: Jan 27

August 18, 2018

One of the things we hear most often from parents of young children is that someone – a distant cousin, a new neighbor, the pediatrician – doesn’t understand what their child is saying. Without meeting the child it’s hard for a speech therapist to determine what that means and what recommendations to make to the parent. Should they schedule a speech evaluation? Is it normal for people not to understand the child?

One of the formulas we cite often to parents who want to quickly determine if their child’s intelligibility (or speech clarity) in conversation with unfamiliar listeners, or “strangers” is normal is as follows:


Child aged 1;0 = 1/4 or 25% intelligible to strangers Child aged 2;0 = 2/4 or 50% intelligible to strangers Child aged 3;0 = 3/4 or 75% intelligible to strangers Child aged 4;0 = 4/4 or 100% intelligible to strangers

(Source: Flipsen, 2006)

What this means, is that for example, a 2-year-old in conversation with an unfamiliar listener (distant relative, a pediatrician who sees the child twice a year) would only have 50% of what they say understood.

This guide gives parents a starting point to determine if their child’s speech is progressing typically or if they should consider an evaluation by a speech therapist.

Of course, a speech therapist goes into a lot more detail to determine if a child’s speech is developing on track or if treatment is warranted. For example, we use normative data that looks at each speech sound they make (“t” sound, “k” sound etc.) and determine if they are producing all of the sounds appropriate for their age.

If you or the people your child lives with still don’t understand what your child is saying, then intervention might be a good idea. Remember, speech therapy does no harm. To your child it’s just another opportunity to play.

Are you wondering what speech sounds your child should be saying at their age? Download our free and simple chart here.

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