We all want the best for our children in every aspect of their lives—and speech and language skills are so important for a child’s overall wellbeing. 

When it comes to communication, we want to engage with them reciprocally, we want them to express their wishes and dislikes, and we want them to foster friendships with others. It is these speech and language skills that allow us to relate to the world around us and form meaningful interactions with others.

In this article, I’ll break down the different areas of speech and language development for you and explain the skills within each domain that are typically acquired by the age of three. If your child is not showing signs of one or more of the following skills, don’t panic! These ages are not hard-set rules and can vary from child to child. If you are concerned, a licensed speech-language pathologist can help determine if an evaluation would be warranted. 

Speech : clarity, and how we articulate sounds

By the age of three, your child should produce the sounds ‘p’, ‘n’, ‘h’, ‘m’, ‘w’ and ‘b’ consistently. Other sounds that are emerging include ‘k’, ‘g’, ‘d’ and ‘t’, and you may hear them popping up in certain words. Don’t worry about other sounds at this point; errors such as ‘teef’ (teeth), ‘bu’ (blue), ‘yeyo’ (yellow) and ‘wabbit’ (rabbit) are still perfectly age-appropriate!

Up until this point, your child may have called a banana a ‘nana’, said ‘brella’ for umbrella and shortened many other multisyllabic words. This is a common simplification but, although cute, at age three we expect more accurate syllable structure (‘nanana’ would be more precise than ‘nana’).

Unfamiliar adults should understand about 75% of what a three-year-old says. When a distant relative visits after six months of not seeing your child, it’s normal to have to ‘translate’ some of their words. But if you’re hearing ‘huh?’ after every sentence, your child may need some support.

Expressive Language : the content of our spoken words

By three years old, children’s sentences begin to sound more adultlike. Your child will start using more personal pronouns (he, she, they, I), regular plurals (‘Two dogs’), possessive’s (‘mommy’s hat’) and new tenses such as present progressive (‘she is running’).

Your child may drop some function words like ‘a’, ‘the’ and ‘it’, but the length of their sentences is probably around three words (e.g., ‘I want cereal’, ‘green car go’). 

A child’s expressive vocabulary is often over 1,000 words by age three. If you’ve lost count of the words they know a while ago, they are likely on track!

Receptive Language : how we understand spoken language

By three, your child should understand and use concepts like big vs. little, and more abstract ones like colours and numbers. They may now ask for the big present, two cookies, or the yellow race car. 

If you ask them to go to their room and bring you their favourite book, they can follow through easily.

By age three, kids can respond to questions such as ‘what do you wear on your head?’ and ‘what does a dog eat?’ and also some who and where questions.

Social & Play Skills

Speech-language pathologists also assess and treat children with difficulties connecting with others. By three years old, your child may start playing with other kids for a few minutes at a time. They can engage in pretend imaginative play, too. Sharing is still very hard!

At this age, kids begin to ask permission to do or have something—or if they don’t, they at least know they should!

Your child may begin to use language creatively to purposefully make you laugh.

Please know that every child is unique and that ages of acquisition are general guidelines. That being said, the wait-and-see approach is never recommended. You know their children better than anyone, and if something feels off, seeking out the advice of a professional is always a win-win scenario. You will either have your worries put to rest, or be able to give the support to your child if needed. 

The speech and language pathologists at SpeakAble will happily guide you in determining the best next steps for you and your little one. Do not hesitate to contact us for a free consultation at (438) 300-3146 or at info@speakableslp.com.

Tamara Paull
Speech and language pathologist, Founder & Director of SpeakAble

Photo : Caroline Hernandez.  

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