Language Development Milestones: What to Watch for in Your Child
December 18, 2019
Is my kid learning to speak slowly? Are they ahead of the game? Check out these milestones and learn what to watch for and what you don't need to worry about from birth to age five.
All children develop at slightly different rates, and while some processes are typical, others may signal that external support may be warranted.
It's important to know what to look for so that you can get your child help if she needs it, or just continue to support her and giggle at her silly phrasing, without worrying.
Here is a list where you should seek help, and where it's probably not necessary:
From birth to 6 months
Watch for: If your child is not turning her head towards noises and speaking people around her, this may indicate a hearing issue. See your pediatrician, an audiologist, or a speech-language pathologist.
Don’t worry about: Your child not babbling. Not all children babble, so if your child does not, it may be okay.
From 6-12 months
Watch for: Children typically like to mimic facial expressions, sounds, and gestures. If your child doesn’t engage in these types of back-and-forth interactions, mimic what they are doing to model and reinforce their behavior. If you are concerned, contact a pediatrician, pediatric psychologist, or speech-language pathologist.
Don’t worry about: Your child being unsuccessful at repeating your words. That’s a natural part of development. Their attempts at communication are what matter.
From 12-18 months
Watch for: Words! Your child should learn to say a few words during this stage.
Don’t worry about: Your child not using her new vocabulary appropriately. Children tend to overgeneralize (like calling all women “Mommy," or calling all animals “dog").
From 18-24 months
Watch for: Your child begins combining words by the end of this phase. This can include a variety of sentence types, like “doggy go," “ball bye," or “no milk." Sometimes, children pair gestures with a word. This is often a sign that your child is almost ready for two-word phrases (for example, “Look" while pointing or “Want" while pointing at a food that they want).
Don’t worry about: Your child seeming like she's not going to hit the milestone on time. Children often go through a vocabulary spurt during this phase, so she may gain several words in a short period of time.
From 2-3 years old
Watch for: By this point, children should have simple sentences that are at least two words long, and their vocabulary should be expanding to different types of words or parts of speech. While children tend to know most nouns, children should also be saying verbs and adjectives by this point.
Don’t worry about: Some stuttering and many incorrectly pronounced consonants. At this point in their development, they will not have learned all of those sounds, and there is some developmentally appropriate stuttering (usually of whole words or phrases, like “I, I, I go there" or “I want, I want, I want to go").
From 3-4 years old
Watch for: Talking about ideas in more depth and detail, and talking about the past. Children at this stage should be able to recount a few elements of their day (with appropriate past tense), and their sentences should have four or more words in them.
Don’t worry about: By this point, children will be able to say most types of sounds, but l, s, r, v, z, ch, sh, and th are still okay to mispronounce at this age, unless it causes them frustration or makes them very difficult to understand.
From 4-5 years old
Watch for: Your child should be making up stories, telling simple jokes, and doing some role playing by this point. She should be able to keep a conversation going, too. If your child is still largely labeling or speaking in short sentences, consider getting her evaluated.
Don’t worry about: Ungrammatical answers to complex questions. For example, a child may know that a “why?" question deserves a “Because ..." answer, but her answer may not be completely logical, or its phrasing may be off. This is developmentally appropriate.
After 5 years old
Watch for: Consistent development in their vocabulary, concepts, and literacy.
Don’t worry about: Asking for help, getting an evaluation, or getting services that will help your child. It is in their best interest to support her if she's having difficulty with language.
Please note that these ranges are approximate and are for monolingual English-speaking children only. Children who are being raised bilingual may also reach the different milestones at different times as they have more to learn, but it is never a disadvantage to be raised as bilingual.
If you are concerned about the rate at which your child is reaching these milestones, please speak to your child’s teacher, pediatrician, or contact a speech-language pathologist.
Paul, Rhea (2007). Language Disorders from Infancy through Adolescence. St. Louis, Missouri: Mosby.
American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. How Does Your Child Hear and Talk? Retrieved from ASHA.
Paradis, J., Genesee, F., & Crago, M. (2011). Dual language development & disorders: A handbook on bilingualism & second language learning, 2nd edition. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
The Stuttering Foundation. Risk Factors. Retrieved from: The Stuttering Foundation.