Typical Language Development

Typical language development occurs in stages. Here is some information regarding early language development that might help you to decide whether you should seek advice from a Speech Pathologist. It is important to note that every child is different and there will be variation from one child to the next, but this is what can be expected for (English speaking) children, with regards to typical language development in the first five years.

By the age of one year, a child should:

  • know and respond to their own name
  • respond to familiar voices and sounds (e.g. phone ringing)
  • respond to simple directions ( e.g. "clap hands", "wave", "give to mummy", "no")
  • babble ("talk") using adult-like intonation
  • say 'mama' and 'dada'
  • enjoy sounds, music and books, responding with body movements

By the age of two years, a child should:

  • understand simple instructions, statements or questions (e.g. "Where's your hat?")
  • use more than 50 words and join 2-3 words together ("bikkie all gone")
  • say the names of simple body parts (e.g. nose, eyes, mouth, ears, hands)
  • join in with simple songs and nursery rhymes (e.g. Twinkle Twinkle)
  • listen to stories and name objects in pictures
  • talk to him/herself in ongoing monologue in 'own language' when playing

By the age of three years, a child should:

  • follow simple one-part directions (e.g. "Point to the bear")
  • understand how objects are used (e.g. A fork is something you eat with)
  • use sentences of 3-4 words, with basic grammar and -ing endings for actions
  • answer simple questions and ask lots of questions
  • recognise her or his own needs, such as hunger
  • enjoy reading books and being told stories, developing favourites

By the age of four years, a child should:

  • follow 2-part directions (e.g. "Get your bag and go to the car")
  • understand some words relating to time (e.g lunch time, today, winter)
  • use a large vocabulary of around 900 words (including shapes and colours)
  • use many 4-5 word sentences, with mostly correct grammar (occasional errors e.g. "I falled down")
  • ask constant questions about 'why', 'when', 'who' and 'what'
  • become familiar with books and letters, even though he/she can't read yet

By the age of five years, a child should:

  • follow 3-part directions (e.g."Stand up, put your shoes on and wait by the door")
  • use sentences of about 6 words with correct grammar
  • use past, present and future tense to talk about events
  • know opposites, such as high and low, wet and dry, big and little
  • explain why something happens ("Mum's car stopped because it ran out of petrol")
  • talk about how he/she feels and share ideas
  • become interested in writing, numbers, counting and reading

(Reference: Speech Pathology Australia)

There are a number of warning signs that a child may be experiencing language difficulties. Click here for more information.


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