MLU is a term that is used when referring to a younger child (1-5 years old) and their language abilities. It stands for Mean Length of Utterance. Basically it is referring to the average number of words (or units of meaning) the child puts together during one speaking turn. As a general rule, one-year-olds should be using one word in each utterance or phrase, two year olds should be putting 2 words together, three year olds 3. Four-year-olds are getting real smart and should be putting about 6 words together.
Now, it's a little more complicated than at first glance because the child gets credit for units of meaning. For example, if the child says "balls" and adds an -s to indicate a plural, then that is a unit of meaning so they get two points for that. If they add an -ed and say "I walked there", that is 4 points because they use walk and add -ed to indicate past tense. Very clever, these children are! (see this link for a much more detailed overview).
I think it's GREAT information for parents of young kids so that you are able to listen to your child and evaluate this part of their language abilities. Maybe they'r a language prodigy and you didn't know it! Or maybe they're a little behind and you've been wondering.
My two year old boy happens to be somewhat of a genius child. Not to brag or anything, but his MLU is about 7. Here is a conversation he had (with himself) while playing with his trains:
"Hey look! Stop train! You cannot cross my bridge! Uh oh! Here comes another bridge! You better cross it! (Then his train track broke) Mom, you can help me do this? It's pretty hard to do. You can take me to the hospital? Okay this is the hospital. Thank you! He bonked his head. You help me take him to the doctor? I will. OK! Oh man. This is gonna be sweet!"
Isn't he great? Well some kids are just born with an easier ability to learn language. Some kids might be a little slower in picking up on it. If your child is 3 years old and they are still generally only using 1-2 words in each phrase, you might want to get them evaluated. And next time I'll post some suggestions on what you can do with younger kids to try to help them start expanding their utterances and putting more words together.
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