Speech and Language Development

Parents frequently ask when speech therapy for children is appropriate. While individual children develop at different rates, there is a general pattern to children’s language development.

By the age of one

Your baby should be able to:

  • Respond to familiar sounds such as the telephone ringing, the vacuum cleaner or the car in the driveway
  • Understand simple commands such as ‘no’
  • Recognise their own name
  • Understand the names of familiar objects or people
  • Say ‘dad’ and ‘mumma’ and a few other words
  • Enjoy songs, music and books
  • Try to make familiar sounds such as car and animal noises

By the age of two

Your toddler should be able to:

  • Say the names of simple body parts, such as nose and tummy
  • Listen to stories and say the names of pictures
  • Understand simple sentences such as “where’s daddy?”
  • Use more than fifty words such as ‘no’, ‘gone’, ‘mine’ and ‘teddy’
  • Talk to themselves or their toys during play
  • Sing simple songs and nursery rhymes
  • Use pronouns such as ‘he’ and ‘it’ instead of names
  • Try simple sentences such as ‘milk all gone’

By the age of three

Your child should be able to:

  • Understand how objects are used eg a crayon is something to draw with
  • Recognise their own needs such as hunger
  • Follow directions
  • Use thee or four word sentences
  • Begin using basic grammar
  • Enjoy telling stories and asking questions
  • Have favourite books and TV programs
  • Be understood by familiar adults


By the age of four

Your child should be able to:

  • Understand shapes and colour names
  • Understand some time words such as lunchtime, today and winter
  • Ask ‘who’, ‘what’ and ‘when’ questions
  • Use about 900 words, usually in four or five word sentences
  • Use correct grammar with occasional mistakes such as ‘I falled down’
  • Use language when playing with other children
  • Speak clearly enough to be understood by most people


By the age of five

Your child should be able to:

  • Understand opposites such as high and low, wet and dry, big and little
  • Use sentences of about six words with correct grammar
  • Talk about events that are happening, have happened or might happen
  • Explain why something happens eg “Mum’s car stopped because the petrol ran out”
  • Explain the function of objects eg “This scrunchie keeps my hair up”
  • Follow three directions eg "stand up, get your shoes and wait by the door"
  • Say how they feel and tell you their ideas
  • Become interested in writing, numbers and reading
  • Speak clearly enough to be understood by anyone

When to seek help

A referral should be made when:

  • Family members are concerned about their child’s speech or language
  • The child is frustrated trying to communicate
  • The child is having difficulty understanding what is said to him/her, or following instructions
  • The child is not using single words by 18 months of age
  • The child is not using 2 word sentences at 2½ years of age
  • The child’s speech is difficult to understand at 3 years of age


If you would like further information about speech therapy for children, please contact Melvin Speech Pathology on (03) 9889 9010.

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