Late Talkers

Do Animal Sounds Count as Words? Yes! (Signs do Too!)

January 16, 2023

I’m Brooke
I'm a speech therapist with a mission to make speech therapy simple and accessible! 
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Yes, Please

mom kissing toddler

You may be wondering, “What exactly counts as word?” This post is for you!

There are 4 criteria to count as a word:

1️) It’s consistent: Your child always uses the same name for the same thing. If it’s “mmm” for milk, your little one always says “mmm” for milk

2️) It approximates our version of the word: It probably won’t sound exactly like ours, but as long as it’s their version of a real word, it counts! My daughter says “baba” for blanket and that totally counts! Think of it as their version of the word

3️) The words must be said with the intention to communicate: In other word, they must be saying “mama” in reference to you

4️) It’s used in a variety of settings: We see a word used across settings and situations so it’s “dog” when they see a dog on a walk, at the park, in their book, etc.

speech delayed toddler with dad

Do animal sounds count as words?

Yes! As long as they’re meeting the same 4 criteria. For example, your child always say, “Moo” for cow! In fact, many children say the animal sound (“moo”) before the name (“cow”)

Do signs count as words?

Yes! Again, as long as it’s consistent, used across different settings, and are used intentionally, they count! Your child might even use their own version of a sign just like they use their own versions of words

late-talking toddler

How can I help my child learn new words?

Why do children say words like “ball” and “dog” before words they also may hear you say like “wifi” or “taxes?”

Children are experts at picking up on patterns in their environment. Your child hears a word like “ball” over and over again- at the park, outside, in their book and the repetition helps it become familiar.


Stress new and important words by repeating them several times.

The way you talk helps your child learn new words. When we talk in a slower, more sing songy way, it’s called child-directed speech and this actually helps your child learn new words. It tells your child the language is just for them and cues them to tune in and listen. Research shows that children between 18-24 months actually only learned new words when they were said in this way.  It wasn’t until 34 months that children could learn a new word, no matter how it was said. Slow down and emphasize new and important words.

Want to track your toddler’s words? Grab my FREE FIRST 50 WORDS CHECKLIST

If you’re looking more tools to help your toddler start talking, check out my course for parents of Late-Talker, The Late-Talker Course

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