Childhood development is complex. Between speech and language development, and the variability between children, it’s not always easy to tell if your child’s development is considered “typical.” If you’re worried that your child’s speech development may be atypical, here is a tool for you to use. These are the developmental milestones in speech that average children meet by certain ages.
1. Between 3 and 4 years, typical development includes:
Hearing and Understanding
- Responds when you call from another room
- Understands words for some colors and shapes (i.e. red, blue, green…circle, square etc.)
- Understands words for family members (i.e. sister, grandma, aunt, etc.)
- By 4 years old comprehends up to 5,600 words
- Understands common opposites (i.e. light-dark, fast-slow)
- Understands concepts like more/less, spatial locations like next to
- Knows full name, name of street, and several nursery rhymes
- Responds to questions appropriately
- By 4 years old, understands most preschool stories appropriately
- Answers simple who, what, where questions and asks when, how, why questions
- Uses around 1,000 words to communicate
- Labels most things in the environment
- Relates experiences by talking about what happened in the day
- Uses pronouns (i.e. I, you, me, we, they)
- Uses some plural words (i.e. toys, dogs, cars)
- Says rhyming words (i.e. cat-hat, mop-hop)
- Can sing songs by 4 years old
- Will fill the last word in a sentence (i.e. The apple is on the ______ tree)
- Begins using more complex verb phrases and connects utterances using words like “and” and conjunctions like “because”
- Begins using should, could, would
- Begins using embedded utterances (i.e. The girl who had the red dress played with me)
- By 4 years old, uses mostly complete sentences, using about 4 sentences at at time to communicate, and may make some mistakes still (i.e. I goed to Grandma’s house)
- Uses negation when talking (i.e. no, not, can’t, won’t, don’t)
- Begins using complex and compound sentences (i.e. I can eat and play)
- Uses more irregular forms (children, mice, feet)
- Uses “and” as a conjunction and begins to use “because” by 4 years old
- Uses is, are, am in sentences
- Using reflexive pronoun “myself” and pronouns “you, they, us, them, I, me”
- Begins using “is” at the start of questions
- Using plural forms correctly (i.e. runs, lights, boys)
- Socially, they can maintain a conversation without losing track of the topic and will begin to modify speech according to the age of the listener by 3 years old (i.e. will talk more simplified to a younger child), uses a lot of requests in the form of yes/no and -wh questions, and responds with structures such as yes/no/because and expresses agreement/denial, compliance, refusal.
You may want to see a speech-pathologist if you have concerns about your child meeting any of the above milestones and has difficulty responding to questions, understanding stories, and concepts, has difficulty labeling things around them, is not using more advanced grammar to communicate like negation, verbs and verb tenses, conjunctions, pronouns, asking a wide variety of questions and speaking in full, complete sentences. At this age, your child should be understood 85% of the time by others, with fewer errors in pronouncing sounds in words. If your child has difficulty engaging with peers at school and is struggling to make friends, you may want to have your child’s social skills assessed as well.
2. Between 4 and 5 years, typical development includes:
- Understands words for order, such as first, next, and last
- Understands words for time such as yesterday, today, and tomorrow
- Follows longer directions such as “Get the box, take out the cars, and put them on the carpet.”
- Understands most of what is said at home and at school
- By 5 years understands directions with right/left
- Understands past/future tense and can identify (i.e. Show me the boy who climbed the tree)
- Says all speech sounds in words. May make mistakes on some wounds, such as l, s, r, v, z, j, ch, sh, th.
- Speaks in complete sentences using 4.5-7.0 words to communicate
- Uses about 1,500-2,000 words
- By 5 years old, comprehends almost 10,000 words
- Understands complex sentences and uses complex sentences correctly, telling long stories accurately
- Names letters and numbers
- Tells a short story
- Talks in different ways depending on the listener and place (i.e. uses shorter sentences with younger children and talks louder outside than inside
- Uses future tense (i.e. I will ____)
- Can name items in a category (i.e. foods, animals) and can point to categorical items (i.e. show me what one gives me milk)
- Uses most pronouns including possessive pronouns (i.e. mine, his, her)
- By 5 years responds to “when” questions and “how often/how long” questions
- Will ask about the meaning of words
- Can give their full name
- Demands explanations with frequent use of “why”
- Uses comparatives (i.e. bigger, smaller)
- Uses irregular plurals consistently (i.e. feet, teeth, mice)
- Socially, a child is able to modify their speech taking into consideration the listener’s age and has an increased awareness of grammatical correctness and appropriateness of sentences. Children can maintain a topic over multiple, successive utterances. He/She will use egocentric monologues (i.e. talking about themselves: “I got a new toy, my mommy made cookies, I like swimming..”) and will begin to tell jokes and riddles.
You may want to see a speech-pathologist if you have concerns about your child meeting any of the above milestones and has difficulty understanding order and time concepts, following longer directions, and naming letters, numbers, categories, telling stories and using a variety of pronouns, plurals, comparatives, superlatives, and verbs in full, complete sentences. By the age of 5, your child should be using most speech sounds in words with minimal errors, being understood by others 90-100% of the time. If your child has difficulty engaging in conversation across a variety of topics and is not understanding jokes and riddles, in addition to struggling to make friends, you may want to have your child’s social skills assessed as well.
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DISCLAIMER: Information published about one particular disorder does not necessarily apply to every individual who has the disorder discussed in this article. Treatments, therapies and suggestions are highly individual and must be customized to the needs of each person to be effective. Do not make changes to your/your child’s treatment plan as a result of what you read in this article (or any content published by AASL) without consulting your/your child’s physicians and therapists. This content does not necessarily reflect the opinions of All About Speech and Language or its therapists. To understand the opinions and recommendations of your/your child’s AASL therapist, schedule an appointment with your therapist to discuss your concerns.
American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA). Identify the Signs: Communicating With Baby: Tips and Milestones From Birth to Age 5; https://identifythesigns.org/communicating-with-baby-toolkit/.
An Advanced Review of Speech-Language Pathology: Preparation for PRAXIS and Comprehensive Examination; 3rd Edition (Roseberry-McKibbin, Hedge). Da Capo Press: Cambridge, MA. 2007.