Is Your Child Having Difficulty Communicating? It May Be Due to a Limited Vocabulary Bank.

Hi everyone 🙂 Speech-language pathologist/momma here to talk about why vocabulary is so important to your child’s communication skills and how to improve your child’s vocabulary through everyday activities you can do at home. This post pertains to infants – teenagers. VOCABULARY is all about knowing what word goes with objects/actions/people and knowing how to use those words to communicate. See an excerpt from a recent post I wrote to give you a better understanding as to WHY you must have a vocabulary in place in order to communicate and understand others.

Imagine what it would be like if someone said, “Veronica, I want you to walk around your house and tell me everything you see, BUT, you have to say each word in Latin.” Same concept. I have to know those Latin words in my head (receptive language-vocabulary) before I can say them aloud. 

Signs your child may have a limited vocabulary

Does not point to or look in the direction of objects or things when asked

Is not saying any real words yet and is 1 year or older

Not putting 2 or more words together if 2 years of age or older

Has frequent difficulty finding their words. For example, they may say, “Oh you know, that one thing” or “I can’t think of the word”

Has trouble answering and asking questions

Impaired reading comprehension

Trouble following directions

Difficulty describing pictures or actions

How do people develop vocabulary?

I always imagine vocabulary being a bank in people’s heads. Instead of bills or coins being deposited, vocabulary is deposited. When they hear, see, think, or have something they want to communicate to others, they make a “vocabulary withdrawal.” As soon as a child is born, they begin learning vocabulary. After consistent, frequent exposure, they learn their own name, the name of their caregivers, and it just keeps growing from there. As parents, we are not consciously saying, “I need to say this, this, and this x amount of times a day so they will learn these words.” We talk + they listen + they watch the world around them = vocabulary deposits. Sometimes, however, children still do not have a good “vocabulary bank” to draw from and we need to take some extra steps to help our children learn.

rockos modern life GIF

Language Development Based on Age

These language development milestones came from
In order to see how much vocabulary impacts an absolutely ENORMOUS CHUNK of our lives, take a look at the language development chart below. 

Look at the text that is written in bold to see how large a child’s “vocabulary bank” should be. In addition, the majority of the milestones that a child CAN do at each age is because they DO have a good vocabulary bank.

By age one


  • Recognizes name
  • Says 2-3 words besides “mama” and “dada”
  • Imitates familiar words
  • Understands simple instructions
  • Recognizes words as symbols for objects: Car – points to garage, cat – meows

Between one and two


  • Understands “no”
  • Uses 10 to 20 words, including names
  • Combines two words such as “daddy bye-bye”
  • Waves good-bye and plays pat-a-cake
  • Makes the “sounds” of familiar animals
  • Gives a toy when asked
  • Uses words such as “more” to make wants known
  • Points to his or her toes, eyes, and nose
  • Brings object from another room when asked

Between two and three


  • Identifies body parts
  • Carries on ‘conversation’ with self and dolls
  • Asks “what’s that?” And “where’s my?”
  • Uses 2-word negative phrases such as “no want”.
  • Forms some plurals by adding “s”; book, books
  • Has a 450 word vocabulary
  • Gives first name, holds up fingers to tell age
  • Combines nouns and verbs “mommy go”
  • Understands simple time concepts: “last night”, “tomorrow”
  • Refers to self as “me” rather than by name
  • Tries to get adult attention: “watch me”
  • Likes to hear same story repeated
  • May say “no” when means “yes”
  • Talks to other children as well as adults
  • Solves problems by talking instead of hitting or crying
  • Answers “where” questions
  • Names common pictures and things
  • Uses short sentences like “me want more” or “me want cookie”
  • Matches 3-4 colors, knows big and little

Between three and four


  • Can tell a story
  • Has a sentence length of 4-5 words
  • Has a vocabulary of nearly 1000 words
  • Names at least one color
  • Understands “yesterday,” “summer”, “lunchtime”, “tonight”, “little-big”
  • Begins to obey requests like “put the block under the chair”
  • Knows his or her last name, name of street on which he/she lives and several nursery rhymes

Between four and five


  • Has sentence length of 4-5 words
  • Uses past tense correctly
  • Has a vocabulary of nearly 1500 words
  • Points to colors red, blue, yellow and green
  • Identifies triangles, circles and squares
  • Understands “In the morning” , “next”, “noontime”
  • Can speak of imaginary conditions such as “I hope”
  • Asks many questions, asks “who?” And “why?”

Between five and six


  • Has a sentence length of 5-6 words
  • Has a vocabulary of around 2000 words
  • Defines objects by their use (you eat with a fork) and can tell what objects are made of
  • Knows spatial relations like “on top”, “behind”, “far” and “near”
  • Knows her address
  • Identifies a penny, nickel and dime
  • Knows common opposites like “big/little”
  • Understands “same” and “different”
  • Counts ten objects
  • Asks questions for information
  • Distinguished left and right hand in herself
  • Uses all types of sentences, for example “let’s go to the store after we eat”

Keep in mind that vocabulary does NOT necessarily mean words they are actually saying; it also includes words they know. You do, however, have to KNOW the words before you can learn to say them.

In order to help your child, you need to find their starting point.

Do a Quick Test of What They Know

Test your child to see what words they do know. Ask them to point to or look at (no talking required by child here) different people or objects. For example, say “Point to mommy,” “Point to daddy,” “Point to sissy,” “Point to the teddy bear” “Point to your bottle” or “Point to the dog”….whatever your child is exposed to on a frequent, daily basis that you would expect them to know. If they are not talking much, make a list of words they do say. NOT words they repeat after you, but words they say on their own. This will take some time, but you need to know your child’s starting point in order to decide where to proceed from there. If they do not point at or look in the direction of the object or person that you asked them to, they may not KNOW the word that goes with that person or object.

What Vocabulary Type is Your Child?

TYPE 1: KNOWS the words but does not say them. Can point to or look at familiar, everyday objects and people when you ask them to. (limited expressive vocabulary)

TYPE 2: Does not KNOW the word, so in turn, is NOT talking yet OR not stringing enough words together. Will not point at named familiar objects/people OR does not point to enough objects/people that they are exposed to everyday AND not saying any words yet OR not stringing enough words together for their age (limited receptive and expressive vocabulary) They may even be able to “see” in their mind what they are thinking about, but does not have the word to attach to that image.

TYPE 3: KNOWS some words and does string words enough together, but uses a lot of “empty” words. For example, “Today, I, um, did that thing, whatever you call it, and then I went back home.” (limited receptive and expressive vocabulary)

Set goals for your child. Write down your main concerns and then write goals that address those concerns. See below for goal examples for each vocabulary type.

TYPE 1 vocabulary (see above if you haven’t read the types) goal example: Phoebe will attempt to repeat words after me. If your child is Type 1, accept any attempts to say the word. Even if “cat” sounds like “ta” or “ca”, that is AWESOME! It is developmentally normal for a child to talk like that when they FIRST start talking. Ignore their actual age, you have to think about where they are on the developmental milestone chart. Remember to start out with words that go with objects/people/actions they are exposed to on an everyday basis.

TYPE 2 vocabulary (see above) goal example: “When I say the name, Phoebe will point to her sister, Rover (dog), her dolls, her nana, her bed, and her sippy cup.” Make a list of words you want them to KNOW and/or say, and work on that list in chunks until you make your way to the bottom of the list or have to make a new one. Another goal for this vocabulary type could be, “Phoebe will put two words together. i.e. want eat, want food, big dog, my toy.”

TYPE 3 vocabulary goal example: “I want Phoebe to be able to tell me about something that happened at school without using empty words.”

Now that I’ve told you all this, click HERE to see ways to improve your child’s vocabulary at home.


5 thoughts on “Is Your Child Having Difficulty Communicating? It May Be Due to a Limited Vocabulary Bank.”

Leave a Reply