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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.

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.