expressive language delay

Expressive Language Delay: Milestones, Red Flags, and How to Help

As a parent, you may wonder, “Is my child talking enough?” or “Is my child’s language age-appropriate?” While it is common for parents and caregivers to compare their child’s performance to that of their siblings or peers, it is important to remember that there are many factors determining your child’s speech and language development. Each child is unique and development takes time! Below are some common expressive language developmental milestones along with red flags and how to help if your child is behind.

Expressive Language Milestones:expressive language delay

  • 6 months: reduplicated babbling (ex. bababa)
  • 12 months: begins to produce real words, demonstrates communicative intent
  • 18 months: produces approximately 50 words
  • 24 months: begins to produce two-word combinations, has an expressive vocabulary of approximately 300 words, asks questions
  • 36 months: produces 3-5 word sentences, talks about things that have happened
  • 48 months: has an expressive vocabulary of approximately 1500 words, tells stories
  • 60 months: has most adult language structures mastered, produces 5-7 word sentences, expresses 1500-2200 words

Are you concerned that your child’s expressive language is delayed? In addition to the milestones noted above, refer to the following red flags.

Expressive Language Red Flags:

  1. Limited vocabulary
  2. Frustration when communicating
  3. Difficulty asking questions
  4. Difficulty answering questions
  5. Disinterest in communicating

Why is my child’s language delayed?

A child’s language may be delayed for any number of reasons. Some of these include hearing loss, a history of ear infections, a family history of language difficulties, other developmental delays, lack of exposure to language, or an unknown cause.

Use these techniques to improve expressive language at home:


Recast occurs when an adult or clinician responds to a child’s utterance by using the correct form while still maintaining the meaning of the child’s utterance. There are two types of recast: expansion and extension. Read some examples below:

Expansion: An expansion adds grammatical information to the utterance. If the child produces “push car”, the adult may expand the utterance by saying “Yes, you are pushing the car!”

Extension: An extension adds additional information to the child’s utterance. “Push car” becomes “You are pushing the blue car fast!”


Self -talk includes narrating what you are doing, seeing, or hearing during play or interactions with the child. For example, when setting the table you may say, “I am putting a plate on the table. Here is a cup! Now it’s time for the spoon, fork, and knife.”

Parallel Talk

Parallel talk is similar to self-talk, however, instead of narrating your actions you are narrating the child’s actions. For example, when the child is playing with a doll, you may say, “You fed the baby. I think she is sleepy now. Oh, you gave her a blanket and put her to bed! Good night baby!” During parallel talk, you are not placing any demands on the child but rather are providing accurate and appropriate models of language.

Utilize these techniques to help encourage and expand expressive language at home. If you are concerned with your child’s expressive language skills, a speech-language pathologist can help!