Developmental Stages

All children start talking at different times and develop language at different rates. It is important to know what is typical development so that we can identify speech, language and communication difficulties early. Here is some information about what to expect at different ages.

Progress checker

You can check the progress of your child’s communication development using this Progress Checker:

The information below is being used with courtesy from I CAN, the children’s communication charity, (UK Registered charity 21003)


12-18 months

At this stage, children will start to use language in a more recognisable way. They will also become more sociable.

Children develop skills at different rates, but by 18 months, usually children will:

  • Enjoy games like peek-a-boo and pat-a-cake and toys that make a noise. 
  • Start to understand a few simple words, like ‘drink’, ‘shoe’ and ‘car’. Also simple instructions like 'kiss mummy', 'kick ball' and 'give me'.
  • Point to things when asked, like familiar people and objects such as ‘book’ and ‘car’.
  • Use up to 20 simple words, such as 'cup', 'daddy' and 'dog'. These words may not always be easily recognised by unfamiliar adults.
  • Gesture or point, often with words or sounds to show what they want.
  • Copy lots of things that adults say and gestures that they make.
  • Start to enjoy simple pretend play, for example pretending to talk on the phone.

18-24 months

At this stage, children try out new things and explore the world around them more actively. They will often choose their own activities and may not always like being told what to do.

Children develop skills at different rates, but by 2 years, usually children will:

  • Concentrate on activities for longer, like playing with a particular toy.
  • Sit and listen to simple stories with pictures.
  • Understand between 200 and 500 words.
  • Understand more simple questions and instructions. For example 'where is your shoe?' and 'show me your nose'.
  • Copy sounds and words a lot.
  • Use 50 or more single words. These will also become more recognisable to others.
  • Start to put short sentences together with 2-3 words, such as ‘more juice’ or ‘bye nanny’.
  • Enjoy pretend play with their toys, such as feeding dolly.
  • Use a limited number of sounds in their words – often these are p, b, t, d, m and w. Children will also often miss the ends off words at this stage. They can usually be understood about half of the time.

2-3 years

Children develop skills at different rates, but by 3 years usually children will:

  • Listen to and remember simple stories with pictures.
  • Understand longer instructions, such as 'make teddy jump' or 'where's mummy's coat?'
  • Understand simple 'who', 'what' and 'where' questions.
  • Use up to 300 words.
  • Put 4 or 5 words together to make short sentences, such as 'want more juice' or ‘he took my ball’.
  • Ask lots of questions. They will want to find out the name of things and learn new words. 
  • Use action words as well as nouns, such as ‘run’ and ‘fall’.
  • Start to use simple plurals by adding ‘s’, for example ‘shoes’ or ‘cars’.
  • Use a wider range of speech sounds. However, many children will shorten longer words, such as saying ‘nana’ instead of ‘banana’. They may also have difficulty where lots of sounds happen together in a word, e.g. they may say ‘pider’ instead of 'spider.'
  • Often have problems saying more difficult sounds like sh, ch, th and r. However, people that know them can mostly understand them.
  • Now play more with other children and share things.
  • Sometimes sound as if they are stammering or stuttering.  They are usually trying to share their ideas before their language skills are ready. This is perfectly normal, just show you are listening and give them plenty of time.

3-4 years

Children at 3 to 4 years will usually be actively learning language and asking many questions.

Children develop skills at different rates, but by 4 years usually children will:

  • Listen to longer stories and answer questions about a storybook they have just read.
  • Understand and often use colour, number and time related words, for example, 'red' car, 'three' fingers and 'yesterday / tomorrow'.
  • Be able to answer questions about ‘why’ something has happened.
  • Use longer sentences and link sentences together.
  • Describe events that have already happened e.g. 'we went park.'
  • Enjoy make-believe play.
  • Start to like simple jokes.
  • Ask many questions using words like ‘what’ ‘where’ and ‘why’.
  • Still make mistakes with tense such as say 'runned' for ‘ran’ and 'swimmed' for ‘swam’.
  • Have difficulties with a small number of sounds – for example r, w, l, f, th, sh, ch and dz.
  • Start to be able to plan games with others.

4-5 years

At this stage, they  need to listen, understand more and share their ideas within the classroom. They will use their language skills to help them learn to read.

Children develop skills at different rates, but by 5 years usually children will:

  • Understand spoken instructions without stopping what they are doing to look at the speaker.
  • Choose their own friends and play mates.
  • Take turns in much longer conversations.
  • Understand more complicated language such as ‘first’, ‘last’, ‘might’, ‘may be’, ‘above’ and ‘in between’.
  • Understand words that describe sequences such as “first we are going to the shop, next we will play in the park”.
  • Use sentences that are well formed. However, they may still have some difficulties with grammar. For example, saying 'sheeps' instead of 'sheep' or 'goed' instead of 'went'.
  • Think more about the meanings of words, such as describing the meaning of simple words or asking what a new word means.
  • Use most sounds effectively. However, they may have some difficulties with more difficult words such as 'scribble' or 'elephant'. 

5-7 years

Often by 5 or 6 years, children have good communication skills. They are better at using language in different ways e.g. discussing ideas or giving opinions.

Children develop skills at different rates, but beyond 5 years, usually children will:

  • Focus on one thing for longer without being reminded.
  • Rely less on pictures and objects to learn new words.
  • Use their language skills in learning to read, write and spell.
  • Learn that the same word can mean two things, such as 'orange' the fruit and 'orange' the colour.
  • Learn that different words can mean the same thing such as ’minus’ and ‘take away’.
  • Understand feelings and descriptive words like 'carefully', 'slowly' or 'clever'.
  • Use language for different purposes such as asking questions or persuading.
  • Share and discuss more complex ideas.
  • Use language in a range of social situations.