Baby Hints & Tips

Language Development Milestones in the First Five Years

It’s common to question if your child is meeting their language development milestones.

Early Childhood Educator, Jan Jones, shares her expert tips of what to expect and look for in language development milestones by age.

We’ve also included a stack of medical references to check out if you’re concerned about your child’s verbal and communication development. As a mum, always go with your gut – there is never a wrong time to see your family doctor for questions or support. 

Jan Jones: Many parents wonder if children’s language and listening skills are developing normally. While individual children develop their talking and listening skills at different rates, there is a general pattern to children’s language development.

By the age of one, your baby should be able to:

  • respond to familiar sounds, such as the telephone ringing, the vacuum cleaner or the car in the driveway
  • understand simple commands, such as ‘no’
  • recognise their own spoken name
  • understand the names of familiar objects or people
  • say ‘dad’, ‘Mumma’ and a few other words
  • enjoy songs, music and books
  • try to make familiar sounds, such as car and animal noises

By the age of two, your toddler should be able to:

  • say the names of simple body parts, such as nose or tummy
  • listen to stories and say the names of pictures
  • understand simple sentences, such as ‘where’s your shoe?’
  • use more than fifty words such as ‘no’, ‘gone’, ‘mine’, ‘teddy’
  • talk to themselves or their toys during play
  • sing simple songs, such as ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star,’ or ‘BAA baa black sheep’
  • use some pronouns instead of names, such as ‘he’, ‘it’
  •  try simple sentences, such as ‘milk all gone’

By the age of three, your child should be able to:

  • understand how objects are used – a crayon is something to draw with
  • recognise their own needs, such a s hunger
  • follow directions
  • use three to four-word sentences
  • begin to use basic grammar
  • enjoy telling stories and asking questions
  • have favourite books and stories
  • be understood by familiar adults

By the age of four, your child should be able to:

  • understand shape and colour names
  • understand some ‘time’ words, such as lunchtime, today, winter
  • ask who, what and why questions
  • use lots of words, about 900, usually in four to five-word sentences
  • use correct grammar with occasional mistakes, such as ‘I falled down’
  • use language when playing with other children
  • speak clearly enough to be understood by most people.

Preparing your child for preschool

By the age of five, your child should be able to:

  • understand opposites, such as high and low, wet and dry, big and little
  • use sentences of about six words with correct grammar
  • talk about events which are happening, have happened or might happen
  • explain why something happens, such as “Mum’s car stopped because the petrol ran out”
  • explain the function of objects, eg. ‘This clip keeps my hair away’
  • follow three directions, eg.’stand up, get your shoes on and wait at the door’
  • say how they feel and tell you their ideas
  • become interested in writing, numbers and reading things
  • speak clearly enough to be understood by anyone.

morning routine

Worried about your child’s speech or communication? When to seek help…

A speech pathologist is professionally trained to advise, diagnose and work with children and adults who have a communication disability.

Contact a speech pathologist if you are worried about your child’s speech or language, if your child sounds quite different from the ages and stages outlined above, or if your child’s teacher is concerned.

Resources for Language Development Milestones you might like to explore: 

Infographic by Sounds: Small Talk in conjunction with American Speech Language Hearing Assoc.

What did/do you find the most frustrating part about waiting for your child’s communication skills to develop?


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