Important Speech-Language Development Milestones for Children

speech therapist and child playing tea party

Among the many milestones parents track for their children is speech and language development.

What’s “normal” speech development?
When should you worry about a speech delay?
What do you do if your child’s speech isn’t “on track” according to the speech development charts out there?

First of all, try not to stress yourself out too much (easier said than done, we know). Every child progresses at his or her own unique pace. Should you identify a possible speech delay or other speech-language disorder, there are plenty of options for effective intervention.

Still, we know how important it is to have a base understanding of average speech development. The following guidelines are adapted from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association:

Typical Speech Development, Ages 0-5

Speech Development: Birth to Age One

Most children are able to reach these speech milestones by age one:

  • Says one or two simple words. Examples of common first words include mama, dada, uh-oh, dog. Their sounds don’t need to be exact, but you can tell your child clearly assigns meaning to and communicates with that particular word.
  • Uses sounds and gestures to communicate and get your attention. Waving goodbye, shaking his or her head no, reaching arms to be picked up, pointing to objects to show them off or ask for them.
  • Responds to simple questions or commands like sit here, want more, or no.
  • Imitates speech sounds, Like “mmmmm”
  • Understands common words like car, drink, ball, etc.

Speech Development: Ages One to Two

You can expect most children to hit these speech milestones by age two:

  • Uses simple two-word phrases like daddy juice or mama ball.
  • Forms the sounds p, b, m, w, h in the words they use.
  • Responds to and asks simple questions.
  • Makes animal sounds.
  • Has a vocabulary of around 50 words, although often pronounced unclearly.
  • Names some pictures in books.

Speech Development: Ages Two to Three

By the end of age three, typical speech development includes these milestones:

  • Uses two or three words together to express ideas or ask questions.
  • Is easily understood by people who know the child well.
  • Seems to have a word for nearly everything/understands new words quickly.
  • Uses the sounds k, t, d, n, g, f, in words.
  • Talks about objects or people who aren’t in the room.

Speech Development: Ages Three to Four

By age four, most children have wide vocabularies and can be understood by most people. By age four, you can expect your child to…

  • Makes longer, more complete sentences. Mixing up grammatical endings (known as overgeneralization) is normal. Example: “We goed to the pool.”
  • Talks about what happened throughout the day using 4+ sentences at a time.
  • Uses pronouns, plurals, and -ing endings with some consistency.
  • Produces most speech sounds, but may struggle with some of the more difficult sounds: l, r, s, sh, ch, y, v, z, and th sounds might not be fully developed until age 7 or 8.
  • Expresses feelings, ideas and other abstract thoughts rather than just describing what they see around them.

Speech Development: Ages Four to Five

By age five, most children reach the following speech and language milestones:

  • Keeps a conversation going, asks and answers follow-up questions and tells a story with a sequence of events.
  • Produces more complex sentences with multiple action words.
  • Articulates all speech sounds in words, but may still make mistakes on the more difficult sounds. Some children will continue to have trouble with l, r, s, sh, ch, y, v, z, and th sounds until age 7 or 8.
  • Understands and answers complex questions.
  • Follows multi-step instructions for classroom or household tasks.

What If My Child Has a Speech Delay?

You have options! The first step is to check in with your child’s pediatrician. They can complete a basic evaluation and refer you to a provider if they feel intervention is needed. This is also an important step if you want to use health insurance for speech therapy. Most insurance companies will require a statement of medical necessity before approving coverage.

Next, you’ll need to schedule a formal speech-language screening. In most cases, you can do this with your local school district, your child’s preschool or by contacting a qualified speech-language therapist near you.

After the initial evaluation, your provider will give you their recommendations for how to proceed. If speech therapy is recommended, request a specific plan of action with goals and a timeline. This will also be required by your insurance company in most cases.

Where Do I Find a Speech Therapist For My Child?

Search our comprehensive database of speech therapy professionals near you, or ask your pediatrician for a referral. Don’t see a provider near you? There are plenty of excellent options for online speech therapy as well!


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