Typical language development from birth to five years of age

Language and the ability to communicate starts to develop long before a child begins to speak. The child screams, makes eye contact, and smiles to communicate what they want at very early stage. It is through language that the child understands and is understood. The child’s language development is described in a timeline from birth to age 5 below, but there can, of course, be differences in development from child to child.

0-3 months
The child smiles and begins to interact with others. It recognizes the parents’ voice and can be calmed down upon hearing these familiar tones as the parents talk to him or her. The child’s crying differs depending on what the child wants, from feeding, to a change, to simple attention.

4-6 months
The child is babbling with many different language sounds (such as b, m and p). While these may not make sense on the surface, the child is learning and each sound means something. The child can also now laugh to communicate positive emotions.

7-11 months
The child listens when you talk to them and understands some everyday words such as ball or cookie. The child enjoys playing games such as peekaboo. The babble from a few months prior is beginning to resemble words and is used to seek attention. At age one, the child is able to say their first words. The child also starts using their body more and more to communicate, including pointing or waving.

1-2 years
At around 18 months, the child’s vocabulary begins to expand rapidly. The child can now point out some body parts by name and understand simple questions such as “where is the car?” Or “Can you give me the doll?”. The child also begins to put together short two-word sentences – for example “hi mom”, “big car”, or “monkey sleeping”.

2-3 years
The child can now name most everyday words within their environment and can also put the words together into two-to-three-word sentences. You can now understand what the child is saying the vast majority of the time. The child has the language sounds k, g, f, t and d in their speech arsenals.

3-4 years
The sentences are getting longer, with the child now able to string four words or more together. The child can understand and ask questions containing “who”, “what”, “why”, and “where”. They can use these skills to recall what happened during the day.

4-5 years
The child now uses basic grammar on the same level as an adult. The child understands most of what is said and can tell stories with details and context. The child can use rhymes and now pronounces the majority of words correctly. However, the child may still have difficulty pronouncing certain language sounds such as r and sh.