Language Development Guide for Parents: Birth to 5 Years

The following language development guide can help you keep track of how your child is doing from birth to 5 years of age.  Skills to watch for are listed under each age. It is also a good idea to look back at earlier ages to ensure that skills haven’t been missed.

Every child develops differently, but the more skills that your child is having difficulty with the more important it is to seek advice. The information below can’t replace an assessment by a doctor or therapist.  

Please let me know if you have any questions. I can be reached at

Madison Garvi, SLPatHome

Language Development Guide: Birth to 6 Months

What you should be seeing:

 Looks to sounds and voices

 Is surprised by loud noises

 Cries in many ways when hungry, tired or in pain

 Smiles and laughs when you do

 Tries to get your attention

 Reaches for things and people

 Makes lots of sounds – by 6 months makes sounds like “ma”, “da”, “ba”

Language Development Guide: 6 to 9 Months

What you should be seeing:

 Makes lots of sounds every day like “bababa”, “duh duh duh”

 Uses their voice to get your attention

 Looks when you call their name

 Hears sounds like as the dog barking, the phone ringing

 Looks at a toy, then looks back to you when they want the toy

 Likes being with people

 Enjoys social games like peek-a-boo

Language Development Guide: 9 to 12 Months

What you should be seeing:

  Starts to know the names of common things (points to the ball when they hear you say “ball”)

  Follows simple directions (“sit down”)

  Looks to where you point

  Starts to wave, point, lifts arms to be picked up, shakes their head for “no”

  Copies the actions and sounds that you make

  Gets your attention using sounds and actions while looking at your eyes

  Says 3 or more words

  Puts lots of sounds together as if they are trying to talk

  Likes to look at books

Language Development Guide: 12 to 18 Months

What you should be seeing:

  can show that they know words such as:

     – On (Put your cup on the table)
     – Off (Turn the light off)
     – In (Put it in the box)
     – Out (Take the book out of the bag)

  Can point to 5 body parts when you ask them

  Can say 20 or more words.  The words may not sound exactly right but they are consistent and you know what they mean.  

  Knows more words than they can say

  Answers simple questions with a word or an action (“Where’s the ball? – may go find it, point to it, look at it or say “ball”)

  Does simple pretend things like talking on the phone, eating toy food, putting a doll to bed, feeding a stuffed animal, etc. 

  Uses early simple to make sounds (m, p, b, d, w, h)

  Likes to look at books with you or when you tell simple stories

  Can point to some pictures in a book


Language Development Guide: 18 to 24 Months

What you should be seeing:

 Follows directions with 2 parts (ex. Get your ball and show it to Grandma”)

 says 100 or more words

 Says words like “you, me, mine”

 Says 2 words together (Mommy up, more ball)

 Likes to be with other children and tries to copy what they say and do

 Holds books the right way and turns the pages

 Pretends to read

 Strangers can understand what your child says about least half of the time or more

 Can make M, W and simple Vowel Sounds (A,I,E,O,U)

Language Development Guide: 24 to 30 Months

What you should be seeing:

  Knows what these words mean:

     – Big

     – Little

     – More

     – A lot

     – A little bit

  Begins to add endings to words like:

     – Ing: “Running”

     – S for plurals: “Balls”

     – S for possessives: “Mommy’s hat”

  Says 350 words or more and learns new words every week

  Uses action words like “running, spill, playing”

  Says the beginnings and endings of words

  Tries to say words that have 2 to 3 parts – some words such as “banana may be shortened to  “nana” but they are not leaving parts out of longer words

  Takes short turns with other children – some trouble sharing is still normal

  Shows concern when another child is hurt or sad

  Pretend play has multiple steps (feeds a doll and puts her to sleep, fills toy car with gas and drives away)

  Recalls and understands stories and songs that they know well

Language Development Guide: 30 to 36 Months

What you should be seeing:

 Understands and asks questions such as:

     – “Where is your coat?”

     – “Who’s that?”

     – “What is soap for?”

  Says sentences with 5 or more words

  Can tell about things they have done or tell a simple story

  Enjoys other children and plays more with them

  Pretend play follows a story (drives the car, crashes the car, fixes the car, and drives the car again

  Knows that written words mean something even though they cannot read – may sometimes point to the words in a book or on a cereal box

  People other than you can understand what they are saying about 75% of the time

  By 3 can say N, P, B, T, D, H sounds and doesn’t leave off any beginnings or ends of words.  

Language Development Guide: 3 to 4 Years

What you should be seeing:

  Follows directions with 3 parts (Open the box, get the ball, give it to dad)

  Sentences sound like adult speech

  Tells stories with a clear start, middle and end

  Uses their words to try to solve problems

  Lots of imagination when playing

 Can make up simple rhymes (cat-bat)

  Knows some of the sounds letters make (T says “tuh”)

  Most strangers can understand them almost all of the time – except for some certain words or when upset or excited

  By 4 can make K, G, F, Y sounds and say both parts of S Blends such as “Spoon” and “Stop”

Language Development Guide: 4 to 5 Years

What you should be seeing:

  Understands group directions (“All the boys get a toy”)

  Understands “if…then” directions (“If you’re wearing runners, then line up at the door”

  Tells long stories that make sense

  Speaks about past, present, and future events

  Uses long complete sentences (puts 5 to 8 words together)

  Knows the letters of the alphabet

  Can sometimes tell you what sound starts a word (“Ball starts with the ‘buh’ sound)

  Makes friends, and likes to make their friends happy

  Plays in groups of 2-5 friends

  Strangers understand almost all of what they are saying.  A few “tricky” words may still be a bit harder to understand and speech may be harder when excited or upset.

  By 5 years can say almost all of the sounds of their language correctly.  Some sounds such as Th, Sh, Ch, J and Rs sometimes develop later.