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Steps to talking

Children usually take similar steps in building up their vocabulary. Below are some developmental guidelines.

The Department of Education has created a resource called Hungry Little Minds to help support parents and carers with tips to encourage speech, language and development in age appropriate stages.

Our team run online workshops on early language development. They are designed for parents and carers and those working within early years settings. We have three training sessions available on different topics to equip you with everyday strategies to support your child, aged up to five. Find out more information and how to register here.

At 18-24 months children can usually:

  • Use 20 plus words and join two or more words together eg "more water", "mummy up". Not all words are clear.
  • Understand more words than they can say.
  • Point to single items on request eg "Show me your nose?" " Where's Daddy?"
  • Begin to understand simple commands eg "Shut the door", "Get your shoes", "Brush teddy's hair" but may still need adult support eg pointing.
  • Join in with action songs.
  • Sit and listen to a story with interest.

At two to three years old children can or will usually:

  • Use and understand 200 plus words including "in", "on", "under", "don't", "can't".
  • Understand concepts such as big or little, hot or cold, wet or dry.
  • Begin to ask lots of questions.
  • Use 3-5 word sentences such as "Daddy sit down", "I don't like it", "I want (the) big cake", "what's that boy doing?"
  • Identify objects by their use eg "Which one do we sleep in?"
  • Have speech that may be unclear to stranger but is usually understood by familiar adults by three years.
  • Begin to play imaginatively with other children and understands sharing.

At three to four years old children can or will usually:

  • Use complete sentences with some grammatical errors eg "falled over", "mouses".
  • Talk about past events and experiences although timeframes are usually not accurate (eg confuses last year with yesterday).
  • Ask a lot of questions, especially 'why?' questions.
  • Have mostly clear speech with a few immaturities still present.
  • Understand basic humour and is beginning to tell funny stories and 'jokes'.
  • Play pretend games with other children with more depth and detail.
  • Use language to take turns, share, have discussions and argue with children and adults.