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Speech and Language Development, Age 3 to 5 Years

Speech and Language Development, Age 3 to 5 Years

Speech and language development milestones relate to receptive language (the ability to understand words and sounds) and expressive language (the ability to use speech and gestures to communicate meaning).

A child's speech and language development becomes more advanced beginning around age 3 through age 5. Receptive language skills during this period become more sophisticated; a child learns to make subtle distinctions between objects and relationships. Also, the child can understand multi-step requests. Most children also gradually speak more fluently and use proper grammar more consistently.

Speech and language milestones
 Receptive languageExpressive language

3-year-olds:

  • Follow two-part requests, such as "put your pajamas in the hamper and your slippers in the closet."
  • Learn new words quickly; know most common object names.
  • Understand the concept of "two."
  • Understand gender differences.
  • Know their own full name.
  • Begin correctly using plurals, pronouns, and prepositions more consistently.
  • Frequently ask "why" and "what."
  • Often use complete sentences of 3 to 4 words.

4-year-olds:

  • Know the names of colors.
  • Understand the difference between things that are the same and things that are different, such as the difference between children and grown-ups.
  • Can follow three-step instructions, such as "Go to the sink, wash your hands, and dry them on the towel."
  • Use the past tense of words.
  • Use sentences of 5 to 6 words.
  • Can describe something that has happened to them or tell a short story.
  • Can speak clearly enough to be intelligible to strangers almost all of the time.1

5-year-olds:

  • Understand relationships between objects, such as "the girl who is playing ball" and "the boy who is jumping rope."
  • Usually can carry on a conversation with another person.
  • Often call people (or objects) by their relationship to others, such as "Bobby's mom" instead of "Mrs. Smith."
  • Can define words such as "spoon" and "cat."

Citations

  1. Shonkoff JP (2003). Language delay: Late talking to communication disorder. In CD Rudolph, AM Rudolph, eds.,Rudolph's Pediatrics, 21st ed., pp. 441–444. New York: McGraw-Hill.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerSusan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics
Specialist Medical ReviewerLouis Pellegrino, MD - Developmental Pediatrics
Last RevisedDecember 2, 2010

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: December 02, 2010
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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