How do I know if my preschooler is on target with his/her speech and language development?

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This is a frequently asked question and one that has many different answers. The range of “typical” is expansive but in general, there are developmental milestones and benchmarks SLPs look for and may include some of the following for 2, 3 and early 4 year olds:


• by 2 years, children begin to use more words than gestures and have a vocabulary of at least 50 words

• they begin to put 2 words together spontaneously

• they can demonstrate understanding of more than 300 words

• they can identify body parts when named and follow novel one step directions

• they can respond to yes/no questions with head shakes and nods

• speech intelligibility is quite variable, but 2 year olds typically can clearly articulate p, b, m, h and w


• by 3 years, a child may consistently use 3 word phrases when speaking

• they can begin to use pronouns and some direction words (on, in)

• 3 year olds follow 2 step directions (“pick up your coat and bring it to me”) and can identify action words and some basic concepts such as the functional use of objects (“what do you wear on your feet?”)

• many 3 year old are consistently understood by their caregivers and typically have a vocabulary of 200-500 words that are intelligible

• 3 year olds now add n, t, d, k, g, and sometimes f to their clearly articulated sounds


• by 4 years, children are beginning to follow more complex 3 step directions and demonstrate knowledge of primary colors

• they understand prepositions and enjoy listening to stories and may be able to begin to answer some who, what or where questions

• 4 year olds tend to combine words to form sentences of 5 words or even more and begin to ask many questions

• they may use more pronouns and possessives in their speech

• generally by the end of the 4th year children have added f and v consistently to their speech along with y, ing, l, some consonant blends, sh, ch and possibly r, s and z.

Often SLPs look for PATTERNS when assessing articulation or pronunciation abilities. These patterns are instrumental in determining when to intervene with targeting specific sounds and when to wait.

For any questions regarding speech and language development, we encourage conversations with pediatricians, developmentalists and speech-language pathologists.

–Anne Toolajian, MA, CCC-SLP

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