Late Language Emergence / 'Late Talkers'

Misconceptions About Late Talkers

When parents express concerns about their young child's language development with others, they sometimes hear, "s/he'll grow out of it," or, "don't worry until s/he's three." Unfortunately, these common misconceptions delay parents from acting on their concerns and seeking a speech-language pathologist's advice.

What is a 'Late Talker'?


A child with late language emergence - more commonly known as a ‘late talker’ - is a child who is around 18 to 30 months old and isn’t meeting his or her language production milestones; their expressive language is delayed. These children usually have good understanding of language, and have typical play, social, motor, and cognitive skills otherwise. Their speech sounds may also be developing normally. Professionals such as physicians and early childhood educators who work with young children watch for signs that they may be a late talker. Some of these signs are described below (note: data for vocabulary size provided here are average values; a child may say fewer words and still be within the range considered to be typically developing):

18-20 months

  • typical milestones:

    • by 18 months, says 50 words​ on average

    • is combining these words into two-word phrases ('want cookie')

  • late talker:​

    • says less than 24 words

21-24 months

  • typical milestones:

    • by 24 months, says 200-300 words​ on average (at least 50 words)

  • late talker:​

    • says less than 40 words​

    • 24 months: says less than 50 words

24-30 months

  • typical milestones:

    • by 30 months, says 450 words​ on average

    • is putting these words into phrases and short sentences

  • late talker:​

    • by 30 months says less than 100 words​

    • is not using several word combinations

The Long Term

Many children (50-70%) who are late talkers do seemingly "catch up" to peers by their early school years [1, 2]. These children score within the average range on standardized tests designed to help identify children with language delays and disorders. However, many score within the range considered 'low performance' compared to their peers. Later on, these children may have difficulty with reading and more complex language including grammar [3].


Other children who are late talkers may eventually be diagnosed with developmental language delay (DLD) after the age of four. Rice, Taylor, and Zubrick (2008) found that by age 7, 20% of late talkers had been diagnosed with developmental language delay [4]. The strongest predictors of a later diagnosis of DLD are [5]:

  • smaller expressive vocabulary (words the child says)

  • smaller receptive vocabulary (words the child understands)

  • socioeconomic status (parental income, employment, and education levels)

Advice for Guardians

The best thing you can do as a child's guardian is to have your child assessed by a speech-language pathologist (S-LP) so you can make informed decisions. You’ll find out how your child’s development compares to what is expected for children their age based on standardized, norm-referenced test results, language sample analysis, and other clinical evaluation procedures.


If they are indeed considered a late talker, you’ll learn what their strengths are, and what their areas of weakness are. You’ll be taught how to change your own language and the way you interact with your child – the strategies that clinicians and researchers have found to help late talkers most. Your child’s S-LP will have recommendations about how to monitor their development and provide direct intervention for your child if necessary.

If you are ever uncertain about whether or not a full assessment is warranted, you can request a screening. A screening test takes about 15 minutes to complete and combined with a case history, helps to identify children who should then have a full assessment. You can also request a brief exploratory meeting to better understand your options.

For information about professional fees for these options, please visit this page.


"Late Language Emergence"

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association

Early Development of Expressive Language: A Guide for Parents

This chart provides a general guide of the milestones for expressive vocabulary, sentence length, and grammar development. It also provides several red flags to help guide parents to known when to consult with a speech-language pathologist.

"Child Development: Your Child at 24 Months"

MultiCare Health System

Dr. Glenn Tripp, Developmental Pediatrician

"Two Year Old Child Development Stages & Milestones"

Help Me Grow Minnesota

References on This Page

[1] Dale, P.S., Price, T. S., Bishop, D. V., & Plomin, R. (2003). Outcomes of early language delay: Part 1. Predicting persistent and transient language difficulties at 3 and 4 years. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 46, 544-560.

[2] Paul, R. (1996). Clinical implications of the natural history of slow expressive language development. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 5(2), 5-21.

[3] Rescorla, L. A., & Dale, P. S (2013). Late talkers: Language development, interventions, and outcomes. Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing.

[4] Rice, M. L., Taylor, C. L., & Zubrick, S. R. (2008). Language outcomes of 7-year-old children with or without a history of late language emergence at 24 months. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 51(2), 394-407.

[5] Fisher, E. L. (2017). A systematic review and meta-analysis of predictors of expressive-language outcomes among late talkers. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 60, 2935-2948.