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Speech and Language Milestones, Ages 3 to 5 Years - Topic Overview

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 language Expressive 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."

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: December 21, 2012
    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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