“The first 3 years of life, when the brain is developing and maturing, is the most intensive period for acquiring speech and language skills. These skills develop best in a world that is rich with sounds, sights, and consistent exposure to the speech and language of others. There appear to be critical periods for speech and language development in infants and young children when the brain is best able to absorb language. If these critical periods are allowed to pass without exposure to language, it will be more difficult to learn.” (National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders


When your child starts to speak, it’s an exciting time – and a time when you might wonder if your child is reaching appropriate developmental milestones in speech. The reality is that every child develops in his or her own unique way, but there are typical language development milestones you should watch for at each age. Here is a summary of information provided by Parents.com.

Age 1

At this age, it’s typical for your child to say a few words. Watch to make sure, the article suggests, that when your little one says “mama,” that’s what he or she really means. Read to your child daily; talk to him or her and see if your child tries to imitate your voice (even if it’s just babbling sounds); watch to see if your child responds appropriately, perhaps by turning his or her head towards sounds, and follows simple directions (such as raising arms when you say ‘up’).

Age 2

Parents.com calls this the “magic number” age for speech. By this point, your child should be saying approximately 50 words and starting to put words together: “my ball,” for example, Pronunciation may still be iffy, and that’s okay. Your child will probably begin using pronouns, sometimes incorrectly (referring to her father as “she,” for example), and should be able to point to the dog, a book or his or her nose when asked.

Age 3

Your preschooler can probably use simple sentences by now, with about 75 percent of what he or she says being understandable. He or she won’t need to point much anymore for what is desired, asking for items verbally. Your child should be able to manage more in-depth requests from you by now, as well, perhaps: “Please pick up your juice cup and put it on the kitchen table.” It’s important to still provide context for your requests, though, especially about a new experience.

Age 4

Your child should now be able to share entire stories with you, perhaps about what happened at preschool. Even people who don’t know your child very well should be able to understand most of his or her speech. Your child should be able to name some colors, along with shapes, letters and numbers. The general concept of time is probably making sense, and the ability to follow more complex commands is continuing to grow.

Encouraging Your Toddler

PBS.org offers tips on helping your child to effectively develop speech skills. For example, if your child says, “Truck up!” you can say. “That truck is going way up to the moon!” Your child won’t be able to magically start talking in full sentences like that, but it’s an effective and fun teaching technique.

Ask your child questions about an animal, a book or an event. Then, listen to the stories he or she tells. Show your child pictures of your family and talk about them. It’s also helpful to teach your child words that express feelings, as well as appropriate phrases to use to get your attention.

There is significantly more information in each of the links provided in this post, with the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders post providing a helpful checklist of milestones. And, don’t forget to enjoy the journey!

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