Speech and Language Development

1 year

With understanding, by 12 months, children can usually:

  • Understand 10 words
  • Respond to their name
  • Attend to greetings and gestures (e.g. “hi” and “bye”)
  • Recognise a few objects (e.g. teddy) and familiar people (e.g. mummy)


With speaking, children can usually:

  • Use some sounds, gestures and say a few words
  • Babble (e.g. “ba ba ba”; “ba ma da”)
  • Copy a few different familiar sounds and noises (e.g. animal sounds)



  1. Get face to face with your child and model sounds (e.g. “up”, “ball”)
  2. Build language into routines (e.g. “shhhh” for water play)
  3. Speak to them! Model familiar words (e.g. “ball, bottle, book”)
  4. Remember to wait. When you talk to your child, give time for your child to respond to you before you say more.
  5. People play games (e.g. peek a boo; this little piggy)

2 years

With understanding, by 2 years children can usually:

  • Follow basic 2-part instructions (e.g. “give me the truck and the ball”).
  • Respond to basic questions (e.g. “what” and “where”)
  • Point to body parts on self and in books when named (e.g. arm, eyes, ears)
  • Understand basic prepositions (e.g “in” / “on”)


With speaking, children can usually:

  • Say more than 50 words
  • Combine two words together (“bye baby”, “no bottle”)
  • Say most vowels and a range of consonants (m, n, p, b, k, g, h, w, t, d)
  • Start to use “no”, “my”, “mine”



  1. Give two choices – allow your child the opportunity to communicate what’s meaningful for them
  2. Pretend you’re not sure what your child wants to encourage speech
  3. Talk about what you’re doing (e.g. “I am jumping”; “I am kicking”)
  4. Include packing away toys as part of your play routine
  5. Add one more word onto what your child says

3 years

With understanding, by 3 years, children can usually:

  • Follow longer instructions (e.g. 2-part: give me the truck and pick up the ball”).
  • Understand basic wh- questions (e.g. Who, What, Where)
  • Understand basic colours (e.g. red, blue, green, and yellow)


With speaking, children can usually:

  • Put 4-5 words together
  • Use lots of different words (e.g. locations, names, actions)
  • Ask some wh- questions (e.g ‘what’, ‘where’ and ‘who’)


At this age children typically have a lot to say but don’t always have all the tools to fully express the message they are trying to say, this may lead to increased frustration or behaviours as the child feels they are not being understood. At time it might feel challenging to understand the message your child is trying to communicate.



  1. Ask your child to slow down and take a deep breath
  2. Ask your child to show you what they want and try to put it into words
  3. You model the sentence you think your child is trying to communicate (e.g. “Do you want me to open the box or close the box?”)
  4. Take turns saying words your child finds tricky to say. Remember some sounds are still age appropriate at this age (e.g. ‘sh’, ‘ch’, ‘j’, ‘r’, ‘th’)
  5. If your child isn’t using the correct sounds, you can give them a choice of the correct sound (e.g. do you want “pireman” or “fireman”?)

4 years

With understanding, by 4 years children can usually:

  • Respond to questions about daily tasks
  • Understand a variety of wh-questions
  • Understand questions about a story they have just heard.
  • Understand a few numbers


With speaking, children can usually:

  • Use “combining” words (e.g ‘and’, ‘but’, ‘because’) in their sentences
  • Talk about recent events (e.g morning routine, day at the park, going to the shops)
  • Count to 5
  • Name a few colours
  • Ask different questions
  • Use some pronouns (e.g. ‘me’/’you’)
  • Use negations such as “can’t” and “don’t”



  • Visit the local library and allow your child to choose a book that interests them. Talk about what’s in the book
  • Ask your child to “show you” different concepts (e.g. colours) and then ask them to say what colour
  • Take turns saying words your child finds tricky to say (e.g. words that contain ‘sh’, ‘ch’, ‘s’ and ‘j’’)
  • If your child isn’t using the correct sounds, you can give them a choice of the correct sound (e.g. do you mean “sop” or “shop”?)
  • Show your child pictures of events during the day and ask them to tell you about what happened

5 years

With understanding, by 5 years children can usually:

  • Follow 3-part instructions (e.g. get your bag, find your hat and put your shoes on).
  • Understand words related to time (e.g. ‘before’, ‘after’ and ‘now’)
  • Begin to understand a few letters, sounds and numbers.

With speaking, children can usually:

  • Use sentences that can be understood by most people
  • Have a conversation with multiple turns
  • Say basic, short stories with simple story structure (e.g. beginning, middle and end)
  • Say most sounds accurately, but still may have difficulty with ‘s’, ‘r’, ‘l’ and ‘th’ sounds


  1. Read books together, talk about what’s happening
  2. Ask your child to talk about what they see in a picture (e.g what a character is doing in a story)
  3. Ask your child about their day – ask specific questions (e.g. Tell me about reading time)
  4. If your child uses the incorrect grammar, recast it back to them correctly (e.g. “I goed there yesterday” you can say, “Yes you went there yesterday”)
  5. If your child isn’t using the correct sounds, you can say, “I’m not sure what you mean, do you mean “wed” or “red”?)


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