Language development in children aged 2-5 years of age

Each child learns language at a different pace but there is a general pattern of early language development that we expect most children to follow.

Language learning starts at birth. Babies start to have conversation-like interactions with their parents and siblings by vocalising and exchanging glances. They cry and frown to communicate hunger, pain and distress and smile to express excitement and pleasure. They discover their voice and start cooing and babbling. Initially babble consists of noises and vowels, it then develops into repetitive babbling (da-da-da or ma-ma-ma) which consists of a single consonant and vowel; finally babies develop variegated babbling which sounds as though your child is actually saying words and having a conversation. By 12 months, children will usually produce their first word.

By 24 months of age…
children should be able to understand single words for objects that are out of sight. They can respond to yes/no questions and listen to easy stories. They have an average vocabulary of 200 to 300 words. Their vocabulary contains nouns (teddy, car) and verbs (push, jump) enabling them to start combining words to form simple utterances (push car). Their speech is 50% intelligible to people who don’t know them well.

By 3 years of age…
Children should be able to understand and use questions. They understand “why” “where” “what” questions and can follow simple two part instructions. They start combining 3-4 words to express thoughts and ideas and their speech is 75% intelligible to unknown listeners. They use pronouns such as “I” “my” “mine” “you”.

By 4 years of age…
Children start to combine four words or more to form sentences. Conjunctions such as “and” & “because” emerge so the child is able to form longer sentences and express more complex relationships (I had a sandwich because I was hungry). They should be able to follow instructions that involve three actions, and understand concepts such as ‘in front of’ ‘between’ ‘behind’. Speech is 100% intelligible to unknown listeners.

By 5 years of age…
hildren should be able to produce up to 8 word sentences incorporating more complex sentence forms including conjunctions such as ‘because’ ‘when’ ‘so’ and ‘if’. Later developing grammatical forms appear such as future tense (we will go), irregular plurals (mice, firemen), third person singular (he sings) and a variety of pronouns (they, their, ours). Five year olds should be able to follow instructions containing a range of concepts including ‘before’ & ‘after’ (eat the banana after you drink your milk).

By Maja Zubic
Paediatric Speech Pathologist
Kids First Children’s Services 2014

Concerned about your child’s speech and language?

It is important to continue to monitor and stimulate your children’s language skills because they are essential for later academic and social success.

It is never too early or too late to seek advice from a paediatric speech pathologist, who is university-trained to support children’s communication skills

If you have any questions about your child’s speech or language, please do not hesitate to contact one of Kids First’s speech therapists on (02) 9938 5419.

“Language Development Milestones” by Sax & Weston (2007)

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