Communication milestones for young children: speech and language

In a few years, children go from being able to say a few words to talking non-stop. Children’s communication charity I CAN explains what happens, when.

Mother playing with blocks with her two kids


Children typically say their first words at around a year old. They haven’t mastered all the sounds yet, so their words won’t sound the same as an adult’s.

Two years old

By two years old, children can usually say about 50 words. They also start to put two words together into phrases like ‘more juice’ or ‘mummy shoes’. There will still be sounds they can’t say, so it might not always sound very clear.

Three years old

By this stage your child is likely to use four- or five-word sentences. They’ll probably be asking lots of questions, and enjoy listening to simple stories. By the time they’re three and a half, their speech should be clear to everyone.

Four years old

As they reach four years old, children are able to have longer conversations. They can also talk about things that happened in the past, though you might still hear “I runned” instead of “I ran”.

Five years old

At five, your child should be able to understand more complicated language. They’ll talk in well-formed sentences, and should understand longer instructions.

Language learning doesn’t stop here. Children will keep developing skills through their school years and into young adulthood.

Good to know

Children’s understanding always develops before talking. They’ll be able to understand much more than they can say at first. When they’re very young, words and sounds will be new (and exciting) to them. It’s all about practice.

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