Speech and language developmental milestones for three year olds.


Below are some general guidelines to determine whether your three year old’s speech and language development are progressing appropriately.  If a child lags significantly behind in any area, parents are encouraged to speak with their child’s physician regarding referral to a speech-language pathologist for evaluation, and if needed, treatment.

Receptive Skills (Understanding)

  • Understands several descriptive concepts, e.g., “big, wet, happy, etc.”
  • Understands negation, e.g., “no” and “not.”
  • Identifies objects by their functions, e.g., “Which one do you wear?”
  • Understands most simple “what” and “where” questions.
  • Generally understands when spoken to in adult language rather than in baby talk. .
  • Follows unrelated, two-step directions, e.g., “Put your ball in the box, and then wash your hands.”

Expressive Skills (Talking)

  • Vocabulary around   150 words.
  • Able to give name, age and sex.
  • Produces 3-5 word sentences.
  • Marks plurals and possessives.
  • Uses verbs ending in –ing, e.g., “walking, running, etc.
  • Answers questions with “yes” or “no.”
  • Begins to use descriptive words, e.g., big, hot, color words, etc.
  • Begins to express feelings.

Speech Development

  • The following sounds are typically mastered: p, b, m, n, t, d and w.
  • Uses consonants in the beginning, middle and end of words, although there may be sound substitutions and/or distortions of more difficult consonants, e.g., l, r, s, sh, ch, j, v, z and th.
  • Approximately 75- 90% of speech should be intelligible (easy to understand).

Remember, these are general guidelines.  There will be some variability among children based upon their own particular experiences with language.  All children, however, benefit from language-rich environments.  Parents/caregivers have many opportunities to help their children’s language growth simply by commenting or talking about daily activities.  The narration can be expanded as the child becomes more competent with language.  For example, narration for a two-year-old might be “puppy wet;” for a four-year-old, the narration could be expanded to, “The puppy is wet because it’s raining outside.”

Reading books with children is another fabulous opportunity to stimulate language growth.  Again, the complexity should shift with age and ability.  With younger children, you may simply comment about the pictures in books, then graduate to books with simple language and colorful pictures.  As the child’s understanding of language evolve, books with an actual story line can be introduced.  

Engaging in play with children is another way to enhance their understanding and use of language.  From simple finger plays, like the Itsy-Bitsy Spider, to Simon Says, and later memory/matching games – most games provide opportunities to develop listening skills, expressive vocabulary and concept development.  

Talk. Read. Play. Have fun and watch your child’s language grow!

<- Speech and Language – 2 year old
By Melodie Meadows – Melodie Meadows is a speech-language pathologist with over twenty years of experience.  She is licensed in the state of North Carolina and certified by the American Speech-Language Hearing Association.   Melody currently practices at Asheville Speech Associates