Speech is the verbal expression of language -- the part we say aloud. Although speech is just one facet of language development, it is an important one. Toddlers are just beginning to use speech to communicate, and so they are not particularly clear in their articulation of sounds. It is difficult to tell what typical toddler speech development is and what it is not.
The ages between 1 and 2 are ages when toddler language typically explodes, from a child saying a word or two on her first birthday to being able to say approximately 200 words on her second birthday. However, those words are not always easy to understand. According to the Canadian Association of Speech Language Pathologists and Audiologists, strangers should understand only about 25 percent of what a 1 year old says and 50 percent of what a 2 year old says.
Kids between 1 and 3 years are not expected to master many speech sounds. The typical development begins with /p/, /m/, /h/, /w/ and /b/ and then progresses to /t/, /d/, /k/ and /g/. At 2 and a half years old, children can develop the /n/, /ng/, /l/ and /r/ sounds but the age range for those sounds extends all the way to 5 years old. A toddler may start mastering other sounds at 3 years old such as /s/ and /z/.
Blends are the parts of speech where two sounds go together, such as the /fl/ sound in flower or the /pr/ sound in present. Blends are not included on every speech sound development assessment, but the Goldman Fristoe Test of Articulation does. The test assesses when the majority of children master a particular speech sound, usually by giving an age range. The first blend that children typically develop is /ng/, such as in "thing," but that does not typically occur until they are at least 2 ½ years old. At 3 years and extending all the way until 6 years, a child will incorporate the /s/ blends -- /st/, /sk/ and /sp/.
No other blends occur during the toddler years. At 3 ½ years, children may develop the other /s/ blends, /sm/ and /sn/. The /l/ blends, such as /sl/, /pl/, /bl/ and /fl/, begin developing around 4 years old. The /r/ blends, like /pr/, /tr/, /cr/, /fr/, /dr/ and /br/ don't begin developing until at least 4 ½ years old. Children whose first language is not English or who are bilingual, will probably develop their speech blends even later.