News & Media

22 December 2021

Children’s language development: what is normal for one to five year-olds?

From first words to full sentences - language is an important part of children’s development. As parents, we can encourage our little ones to develop their language skills by talking, reading and playing together.

From the moment they are born, babies are learning to communicate. It begins with cries and coos, then before you know it children are giggling and babbling away.

It’s important to know that all children will develop language at their own pace. However, there are some cues that can help us know whether your child’s language development is as expected.

Here’s a guide to what you might expect between the ages of one to five.

Children’s language development at 12 – 18 months

Around the time your little one celebrates their first birthday, you might also be celebrating their first word. ‘Mama’, ‘Dada’ and ‘no’ are often hot contenders for number one!

At this age, your child is just beginning to talk but they already understand the names for many of their favourite things. Your child will likely understand words like ‘cup’, ‘car’, ‘dog’, ‘hat’. At about 18 months, they will probably begin to use their own name.

The number of words your child can say is growing, but it can still be difficult to understand what they are saying.

>>Interacting with your child

Speech+Therapy

Children’s language development at 18 months – 2 years

By now you will be understanding more and more of what your child is saying. They may begin to put two words together in short sentences like ‘no, Mummy’ or ‘my car’. As their second birthday approaches, others will begin to understand more of what they are saying, too.

Reading books, singing along to nursery rhymes and talking to your toddler about the things you see and do throughout the day will help support their rapidly growing vocabulary.

>>How to help your child learn new words (1-2 years)

Children’s language development at 2 – 3 years

From the age of two, your toddler’s understanding and use of words will boom! You will begin to hear them using action words like ‘play’ and ‘go’ as well as describing words like ‘wet’ and ‘cold’.

They will begin to use ‘me’ and ‘my’ in short sentences. Turn-taking games take on new life as your little one is able to say ‘my turn’ or ‘daddy’s turn’.

By the age of three you will likely understand almost all of what your little one is saying! They will begin to understand the back and forth nature of conversation. Ask your child about their day. “What did you do with Nanna?” might be answered with “play ball” or “bubbles”.

>> Modelling language

Children’s language development at 3 – 4 years

As your child enters kindergarten they will start to use more connecting words like ‘and’ or ‘if’. They will use some numbers and be able to name basic emotions like ‘happy’ and ‘sad’. They will speak in more complete sentences and understand more complex instructions.

Your little one will be asking lots of questions! You will become a living encyclopaedia as they figure out what things are and how things work. Whether it is bugs, cars, animals or dinosaurs – follow your child’s interests and read books out loud together to learn more.

>>How to help your child learn new words (3-4 years)

Children’s language development at 4 – 5 years

Your pre-schooler’s language will continue to flourish. They will begin to use longer sentences with four to five words and joining words like ‘and’, ‘but’ and ‘because’. They will be able to tell you what they have done at kinder and who they played with.

You might notice they seem to have a better understanding of their emotions and are able to tell you when they are ‘nervous’ or ‘excited’.

They will also understand concepts such as big/small, short/long, stop/go, hot/cold and so on. Practise numbers, letters, colours and shapes together.

To find out more about children’s language development, visit raisingchildren.net.au.

For advice and support about your own child’s language development, speak with:

  • your doctor
  • maternal and child health nurse
  • Latrobe Community Health Service’s Children’s Service team – phone 1800 242 696