Research suggests that boys talk later than girls. Check out what speech milestones your little boy should be hitting and how you can support his development here.

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A popular phrase amongst parents of toddlers is “girls talk and boys walk”. You may be wondering what the real truth is behind this saying and pondering over the question: do boys talk later than girls? 

There are some studies that prove this theory correct; however, it’s important to point out that such research isn’t strong enough to wholeheartedly rely upon. We’ll take a look at what the studies say, the different speech milestones you can expect for each age group, and how you can best support late talkers.

What Do the Experts Say?

One particular study was conducted over three years using 861 boys and girls. Blood samples were taken from the umbilical cord to test testosterone levels. Their developmental skills were then monitored over time, and the study concluded that children with higher levels of testosterone went on to become late talkers.

This study shows that boys talk later than girls due to the higher testosterone level that they have.

An earlier study found that boys were up to three times more likely to be late talkers and to develop speech delays. 

They didn’t specifically point towards testosterone levels being the main reason for this. However, their research found that environmental factors such as the parent’s education, wealth or parenting style played a role in such developmental delays. This would lead you to believe that biology could definitely be the underlying cause of the issue. 

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Speech Milestones

There are different opinions about when a baby boy should start talking. It’s important to remember that children are individuals, and they will each learn things at a different speed. However, there is an expectation that they will be able to say and understand a certain amount of words and phrases by a specific age.

The following guidance should be used loosely, and you shouldn’t stress too much if your baby boy isn’t performing as well as you expect. Remember to liaise with your GP, health visitor or a speech and language therapist if you’re worried about your son’s developmental progression. 

0–3 Months

From the moment your precious little boy is born, he is learning how to communicate with you. He does this through crying when he is upset or uncomfortable and making happy noises when he is content. Respond to your baby boy’s sounds, so he knows that you understand his needs.

3–6 Months 

He should start babbling to himself by this age, and will respond with noises when you speak to him. He should also start using his hands to communicate gestures, and will reach out for things that he wants or may pull at you to give him attention. 

6–12 Months

He should start saying favourite sounds like “ma” and “da” which usually sound like his first words are “mumma” or “dadda”. He’ll say them repeatedly, because he likes the new sounds that he has learned. 

By 12 months he should recognise his name and will look to you when you call him. If you’re across the room, he will turn his head and move his eyes to find you.

12–17 Months 

By the time he reaches his first birthday, he should use a couple of words and understand what they mean. If he regularly says “mumma”, he will understand that “mumma” is you! 

He’ll understand many more words than he can say at this age, and may even be able to follow simple instructions such as “wave bye to daddy” and “give mummy the toy”. 

At 15–17 months old, your little boy should understand and say between two and six different words. His knowledge will quickly grow at this age, and he should start following more complex instructions like “pick up that toy” and “come and sit here next to mummy”. 

18–24 Months

By the time he reaches his second birthday, your little boy’s vocabulary will be growing fast. He’ll understand 50 different words and will be able to simply explain what he wants in small sentences like “want that”, “kick ball” and “pick up”. 

He should finish recognisable sentences, such as single word endings to lines of his favourite nursery rhymes. 

Your little boy will chatter away to himself as he plays, and his toddler talking may not make sense to you but he’ll know exactly what he wants and what he means.

His language may be difficult to understand to strangers as he learns to piece different words together to make sentences. However, you’ll pretty much understand what he wants and what he is trying to say.

25–36 Months

Your little boy will use the word “no” as a way of showing his independence and asserting himself. It will quickly become his favourite word and your least favourite! 

He should be able to use around 200 words by the time he is three years old, however he may still need a bit of help with pronunciation. You’ll notice that everything you say is replied with a question, as he has lots of things he wants to know and learn.

You’ll be able to have simple conversations together, and he will understand instructions such as “brush your teeth” and “it’s time to get dressed”. He may not like all of them though! 

Your little boy should be able to talk about things he has done in the past and explain his likes and dislikes. He will make grammatical mistakes as he learns how to talk, so it’s important you correct him and help him along the way.

Encourage Him to Talk

It’s vital that your little boy feels confident and comfortable talking, to minimise him developing speech or language problems in the future. 

Speak with him when you change his nappy, when you feed him and when you’re bathing him. Talk to him about what you are doing and encourage him to repeat words that you say. Make talking fun, and give him lots of praise when he says words back to you.

Remember to simplify your language when you speak to him, so it’s easier for your little boy to pick up words and phrases. Encourage him to say words by giving him questions with options, for example “do you want to drink milk or juice?”

Final Thoughts 

While research suggests that boys talk later than girls, there are still expected speech milestones that your little boy should hit as he grows and gets older. Don’t worry if he doesn’t hit every milestone as it is set out, as long as he is making progress with his speech and saying more as he gets older.

If you are worried then speak with your GP. They will probably reassure you that your little boy is doing just fine and that there are a lot of variations as to what “normal” is when it comes to a child’s development. If your GP is concerned, he will refer your little boy for a speech assessment. 

The best thing you can do to help your little boy is to always talk to him, so that he can expand his vocabulary by constantly listening and learning.