Typical Speech and Language Development

By 2 years old a child should be able to:

  • Point to several named body parts
  • Point to pictures in books
  • Follow simple commands (“get the ball”)
  • Enjoy listening to simple stories and songs
  • Use 150-300 words and begin to put 2 words together
  • Have speech understood about 50-75% of the time.
  • Enjoy playing with you and join in back and forth play.
  • Engage in joint attention (look at object, make eye contact with you, look back at object)
  • Point to desired or unfamiliar items.
  • Wave hello and goodbye without being asked.

By 3 years old a child should be able to:

  • Follow simple 2 step directions (“get your ball and give it to me”)
  • Understand “Who”, “what”, and “where” questions.
  • Understand the concept of “two”
  • Recognize gender differences (e.g her shoes, his toys)
  • Use 500-900 words.
  • String 3-4 words together.
  • Correctly use p, b, m, and w during conversation,
  • Use plurals (e.g. apples) ,pronouns (e.g. she, he, me,) and prepositions (e.g. on, off, in) more consistently.
  • Be understood 75-100% of the time.
  • Engage in pretend play with peers.
  • Seek out playmates
  • Use communicative gestures with during speech (e.g. shoulder shrugs, pointing, hand motions)


  • Understand stories and be able to answer simple questions about them.
  • Follow simple 3 step directions (e.g “go get your ball, put it in the toy box, and come here.”)
  • Understand the difference between things that are the same and different (e.g. grown-ups and children)
  • Know the names of colors.
  • Be understood by individuals with whom they do not associate with regularly.
  • Correctly produce t, d, k, g, f during conversation.
  • Use the past tense form of words.
  • Use sentences that contain 5 or more words.
  • Share a past event or story that is sequential and is understood by individuals who have not heard the story before.
  • Enjoy social and imaginary games with peers (e.g. playing hide and go seek, house, school).


  • Understand and be able to refer to people and objects by their relationship to others (e.g. Sam’s mom, Billy’s ball).
  • Carry on a conversation.
  • Define simple words (e.g. dog, cup)
  • Articulate most sounds in connected speech.
  • Play with peers and manage minor conflicts without adult intervention.

Here are some language tips:

  • Talk a lot to your child. This will help your child learn new words.
  • Read to your child every day.
  • Point out words you see. Point to signs in the grocery store, at school, and outside.
  • Speak to your child in the language you know best.
  • Listen and respond when your child talks.
  • Encourage your child to ask you questions.
  • Give your child time to answer questions.
  • Set limits for watching TV and using electronic media. Use the time for talking and reading together.

Red flags during speech and language development: communication:

  • Not speaking or very limited speech
  • Loss of words the child was previously able to say
  • Difficulty expressing basic wants and needs
  • Poor vocabulary development
  • Problems following directions or finding objects that are named
  • Repeating what is said (echolalia)
  • Problems answering questions
  • Speech that sounds different (e.g., “robotic” speech or speech that is high-pitched)

Social Skills:

  • Poor eye contact with people or objects
  • Poor play skills (pretend or social play)
  • Being overly focused on a topic or objects that interest them
  • Problems making friends
  • Crying, becoming angry, giggling, or laughing for no known reason or at the wrong time
  • Disliking being touched or held

Reacting to the world around them:

  • Rocking, hand flapping or other movements (self-stimulating movements)
  • Not paying attention to things the child sees or hears
  • Problems dealing with changes in routine
  • Using objects in unusual ways
  • Unusual attachments to objects
  • No fear of real dangers
  • Being either very sensitive or not sensitive enough to touch, light, or sounds (e.g., disliking loud sounds or only responding when sounds are very loud; also called a sensory integration disorder)
  • Feeding difficulties (accepting only select foods, refusing certain food textures)
    • Sleep problems

Activities to encourage speech and language development

Birth to 2 years

  • Encourage your baby to make vowel-like and consonant-vowel sounds such as “ma,” “da,” and “ba.”
  • Reinforce attempts by maintaining eye contact, responding with speech, and imitating vocalizations using different patterns and emphasis. For example, raise the pitch of your voice to indicate a question.
  • Imitate your baby’s laughter and facial expressions.
  • Teach your baby to imitate your actions, including clapping you hands, throwing kisses, and playing finger games such as pat-a-cake, peek-a-boo, and the itsy-bitsy-spider.
  • Talk as you bathe, feed, and dress your baby. Talk about what you are doing, where you are going, what you will do when you arrive, and who and what you will see.
  • Identify colors.
  • Count items.
  • Use gestures such as waving goodbye to help convey meaning.
  • Introduce animal sounds to associate a sound with a specific meaning: “The doggie says woof-woof.”
  • Acknowledge the attempt to communicate.
  • Expand on single words your baby uses: “Here is Mama. Mama loves you. Where is baby? Here is baby.”
  • Read to your child. Sometimes “reading” is simply describing the pictures in a book without following the written words. Choose books that are sturdy and have large colorful pictures that are not too detailed. Ask your child, “What’s this?” and encourage naming and pointing to familiar objects in the book.

2 to 4 years

  • Use good speech that is clear and simple for your child to model.
  • Repeat what your child says indicating that you understand. Build and expand on what was said. “Want juice? I have juice. I have apple juice. Do you want apple juice?”
  • Use baby talk only if needed to convey the message and when accompanied by the adult word. “It is time for din-din. We will have dinner now.”
  • Make a scrapbook of favorite or familiar things by cutting out pictures. Group them into categories, such as things to ride on, things to eat, things for dessert, fruits, things to play with. Create silly pictures by mixing and matching pictures. Glue a picture of a dog behind the wheel of a car. Talk about what is wrong with the picture and ways to “fix” it. Count items pictured in the book.
  • Help your child understand and ask questions. Play the yes-no game. Ask questions such as “Are you a boy?” “Are you Marty?” “Can a pig fly?” Encourage your child to make up questions and try to fool you.
  • Ask questions that require a choice. “Do you want an apple or an orange?” “Do you want to wear your red or blue shirt?”
  • Expand vocabulary. Name body parts, and identify what you do with them. “This is my nose. I can smell flowers, brownies, popcorn, and soap.”
  • Sing simple songs and recite nursery rhymes to show the rhythm and pattern of speech.
  • Place familiar objects in a container. Have your child remove the object and tell you what it is called and how to use it. “This is my ball. I bounce it. I play with it.”
  • Use photographs of familiar people and places, and retell what happened or make up a new story.

4 to 6 years

  • When your child starts a conversation, give your full attention whenever possible.
  • Make sure that you have your child’s attention before you speak.
  • Acknowledge, encourage, and praise all attempts to speak. Show that you understand the word or phrase by fulfilling the request, if appropriate.

-retrieved from ASHA website

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