What is a typical two-year-old's language like?

I watched two movies recently that featured two-year-old boys and I was struck by the fact that neither of them was speaking even in phrases. When you could understand them at all and they weren’t just making noises, they spoke single words at least 90% of the time.

I know that my brother and I were atypical because we both spoke in complete sentences by 18 months likely due to our parents’ strict baby-talk ban, but I’ve worked with toddlers too and to the best of my recollection all of the two-year-olds were way beyond this linguistically. They were fully capable of stringing 2 to 4 words together, and usually did. There was a lot of things like “my ball!” “want down now,” “what’s that?” “more juice pwease” and very little babbling or single word utterances. Some even spoke in long, rambling, mostly grammatically correct sentences way before their third birthdays (though, again, I do know that wasn’t super typical)

I haven’t had a lot of up close and personal time with little kids in several years, though, so I thought I’d ask you since collectively you have more experience with twenty-four to thirty-month-olds than I ever will:

When you think of the typical kid of say two to two and a half - not that precocious speaker or the one who scared mom and dad to death by not talking - what are their language skills like?

Unlikely. Studies have shown that “baby talk” aids in language acquisition and that a lack of such talk actually delays language acquisition.

I have a lot of current experience of two-year-olds. I’m with you: when you ignore the outliers at both ends, most of them speak in short sentences. Those aren’t necessarily intelligible to anyone outside the family, but you can tell that that was a four-word sentence you heard - like, you know it’s ‘want my brabbrees, please’ even if you don’t know that ‘brabbrees’ means ‘raspberries’.

Anecdotally, boys seem to be slightly behind girls in language development - on average, not always - so it’s plausible that a boy who’d just turned two would still be speaking in single words. But all my friends’ sons moved on to phrases either before or very shortly after turning two.

In a movie, though, it’s not a question of what the kid can say, it’s a question of what the kid can say on cue and with the right inflection and expression, for a dozen takes. That could well be a lot more limited.

And other studies show that baby talk makes for late talkers…

Sample of 3: oldest son spoke in complete sentences, middle son was called “mute boy” because he did not talk much (not at all in front of strangers as defined by anyone not living in our house) until about age 3 (he could talk, had a wide vocabulary but just preferred to not talk, instead he used hand signals and body language) and youngest who could string together a decent sentence and occasionally used words that had me going O.o because who knew a 2 year old knew what manna was (he watched his older brothers playing videogames).

All of the baby sites say it really varies by individual.

My daughter just turned two, and she is all over the map. Sometimes it’s just words, sometimes it’s sentences, sometimes it’s full but only semi-decipherable paragraphs, and sometimes it’s a complete expression that she picked up from somewhere.

Between one and two years, they usually acquire two word phrases. Somewhere between two and three, they are usually talking in two and three word phrases. But there is indeed a LOT of variation, and failure to achieve one milestone isn’t generally cause for concern. Failure to achieve multiple language milestones calls for a speech evaluation.

I’d love to see some credible citations for that - not because I don’t believe you, but because I’ve never heard that before and would be interested to learn something new.

The closest I’ve ever read to that thesis is that it helps very young children to understand language if you narrate the world using third person rather than first/second person. In other words, “I want to give you juice. Can you say ‘I want juice?’” is much more confusing to a tiny child than, “mommy wants to give Teddy juice. Can Teddy say, ‘Teddy wants juice?’”

My kid is 17 now - we avoided baby-talk but but did do a lot of the third-person voice when he was 1-3 years old. One can still hear echoes of it today in our conversations from time to time…“So, ask your dad about it…Dad? What does Dad think? Mom is willing to do it if Dad is.”

An article in Nov. Scientific American makes exactly that point.

To get back to the OP, of my three children, the oldest was more or less talking in complete sentences by 2*. The second had only a few isolated words by 2 and suddenly began speaking in complete sentences at around 30 months. And the third had phrases but not complete sentences. I infer that there probably is no such thing as typical.

*When the oldest was between 25 and 26 months, my wife had just given the middle child a bath and said to her, “We’ll go out for a walk as soon as Adam gets a little drier.” A minute or two later, my wife heard her parading around the living room, chanting “Have to wait till Adam gets a little dryer, have to wait till Adam gets a little washing machine.” Punning at just past 2.

This was my grandson, I was a little worried about him at two as he wasn’t talking much. By the age of the three he started sounding almost too adult for his age. The problem he has now is rapid speech, his parents can understand him but I struggle. He speaks clearly but so fast it sounds like a different language.

Here’s one study.

That is very, very hard to believe. I have never in my entire life encountered an 18-month-old child who spoke in “complete sentences.”

Two year old will typically have a vocabulary of fifty to a hundred words and they can repeat phrases, like “want the juice,” but complete sentences would be damn rare and a kid who jut had 25 or 30 words isn’t really cause for concern.

I suspect the OP head this from his/her “proud parents” and accepted it without much question.

There are two very different meanings to “baby talk.” One is about using partial, made-up, or mispronounced words, and non-grammatical constructions. The other is about “singsong” tones and rhythms, which mesh with babies’ own “babbling” early vocalizations and somewhat-later proto-speech. These can occur separately or together; there is no necessary linkage.

Something like,

is not “baby talk” at all, in the first sense. These are whole, real words, grammatically assembled. But it could easily be given “baby” tones and rhythms. The audio clip in John Mace’s link is demonstrating this latter kind of talking to a baby (not even very dramatically), and that’s what that study is talking about. As noted there, it’s something that many parents do so automatically they aren’t necessarily even aware of it as a thing.

They’re not saying that parents shouldn’t model real words and full sentences from early days.

My mom (speech therapist, then teacher of early childhood students for 20 years) said that the rule of thumb is that until the child is about 4-5 years old, that they typically speak sentences of about as many words as they are years old.

So 1 year olds might speak one word phrases (“Orange!”), 2 year olds would say 2 word phrases (“Want orange!”) and 3 year olds would use 3 word phrases (“Want that orange!”)

By 4, they’re usually pretty fluent, and speak more or less like a normal person, although pronunciation will still normally lag on certain sounds until as late as 7.

I can have a normal conversation with my 4 year old, but my 18 month old mostly likes the word “No!” a few canned phrases he hears his older brother say (“What is that?” is a favorite), and 2 word phrases of his own invention (“read book!” and “want snack!” are his favorites)

Then you never met my daughter. She was speaking in complete short sentences at 18 months. And she almost always used the proper tense and pronouns. From 2-2 1/2 she was able to have very complex conversations. By 3 due to her height and verbal ability she would be asked by strangers what grade she was in. Now she is almost 16 and has yet to shut up.

My other daughter was barely talking at three although she could understand very complex concepts.

Yeah, it’s not common, but it happens. One of the kiddos I babysat for as a baby and toddler was believed by most people to be entirely mute. Yet he and I had complex conversations with proper grammar and word choice well before he turned two. His parents didn’t believe me, because he wouldn’t talk to them. He’s always been a little weirdo. He’s 8 now, and still just won’t talk to a lot of people. Not because he can’t, but because he actually thinks it’s a waste of his time. (No, not autistic. Just strange.)

I’m not sure what kind of movies you saw (home movies? feature films?) but the difference between what my daughter would say (at that age) around friends and family as opposed to in front of people she didn’t know, was vast. If you just met her, or were filming her in a way that she was aware of, you would have gotten single words at best. Otherwise, inside of the circle of trust, she talked a lot, in longer strings of words (24 months) to full sentences that made sense and were sequential (by 36 months).

Just the other day, I was volunteering at a Halloween party at her school, and I was struck about how different the various 4 year olds in her class seemed to be verbally, but even at the time, I was thinking it was so hard to tell in a single encounter, because some of them were delighted to ramble on at a perfect stranger, while others seemed to be more “OMG it’s a random lady I don’t know!”

My youngest was a slow talker because his older brother was not much older and would translate baby talk for him. With him talking, walking, and running were about the same, it took longer than we expected but once he started he didn’t stop to take a breath for a long time.

Today I learned that my 2 year old son is a genius.