3 Year Old Milestones for Speech and Language

3 Year Old Milestones for Speech and Language


In other posts, we listed milestones for 2 year olds and what to do if your toddler is still babbling but not yet talking, and in this post are continuing with 3 year old milestones. The birth to three period is a time of important and rapid language learning for a child and parents should stay on top of how their child is developing so they can know when and if intervention is needed.


At three language skills are exploding and the expectations on a child also increases. Kids at this age want to express what they want and feel more often, and they can also follow more complex directions. They can sit and attend to increasingly complex tasks, as well as interact with their peers to begin forming social bonds.


1. Speech and Intelligibility


One of the most basic criteria that speech therapists use for speech (how a child sounds when they talk) is the statistic that a 3-year-old should be approximately 75% intelligible to an unfamiliar listener. Meaning, when your child speaks to a person they have never spoken to before, that person should understand 75% of what they say.


You can ask a friend or family member who does not see your child often: “How much of my child’s speech do you understand?


At this age, your child should be using various speech sounds  including already mastering /p/, /m/, /h/, /n/, /w/, and /b/ sounds, and be close to mastering /k/, /g/, /d/, /t/ and /ng/ sounds. They might also have started using and mastering sounds /f/ and /y/.


At the age of 3, your child should age out of many phonological processes and:


  • Not be saying “nana” instead of “banana”
  • Not delete the last sound in a word like “do” for “dog”
  • Not duplicate syllables in words like “wawa” instead of “water”

2. Comprehension and Answering questions


At the age of three, Children are learning to respond to questions that are more conceptual and less concrete such as  “who, where, why” and “how” questions. You can ask them: “Who is that?” and “Where do we put the clothes?”


By the age of three, they can also:


  • Point to body parts you name
  • Follow two-step directions, like “Go to your room and bring a book.” They might also be able to start following two-step directions that are not related like “pick up the blocks then clap your hands”
  • Identify by pointing to 20 pictures when named
  • Understanding location concepts like under, in, on, in front of, behind
  • Understand verbs and point to someone performing them in pictures, like sleep, eat and jump
  • Listen and pay attention to books that are a little bit longer; point to objects or actions in the pictures they see

3. Expressive Language and Longer Sentences


Expressive language is what your child is saying and how they verbally communicate with others. 3 year old milestones for language include using longer sentences. At this age, your child should be using mostly words (not gestures or vocalizations) and children that are delayed in their expressive language skills can feel frustrated and express it by tantruming.


Here are some of the expressive language milestones you can expect before your child’s 4th birthday:


  • Has around 1,000 words in their vocabulary bank
  • Uses 3 word sentences like “gimme more juice”
  • Has short back and forth conversations
  • Starts to use pronouns like, my, mine, you, your/s, she, he, and we
  • Starts to use WH-question words like “Where is-,” and “What is-doing?”
  • Uses prepositions, like in, on, off, down, up
  • Talks about feelings and emotions by verbalizing
  • Uses plural “s” in words like: dogs, cookies
  • Uses the present progressive tense “ing” in verbs like: sitting, walking, eating and
  • Uses possessives “‘s” like: doggie’s bone, mommy’s car
  • Can sing favorite songs

When to Get Help


As previously said, certain kids require additional help in developing their speech and language skills. Like a ladder, language skills grow on top of each other throughout time. Children who do not meet critical communication milestones early in life are at danger of falling behind and this can have implications on school age tasks as well.


The sooner parents get help for their child, the more likely they will achieve their communication milestones. With the help of coaching from a speech therapist, parents can do many things at home to help their child. Typically the toys that are readily available can be used to facilitate communication.


Parents should watch out for:


  • Short sentences (less than 2 words like “gimme cookie”)
  • A small vocabulary bank (your child should use about 1000 different words)
  • People their child meets not understanding what they say; 75% should be understood by strangers
  • Their child saying words without the end sound (“ca” instead of “cat”) and using very simple sounding 1 syllable words
  • Frequent tantrums because others don’t understand them
  • Echolalia (parroting of speech) when there is no communicative intent


Getting the advice of a professional, like a pediatrician or a certified speech language pathologist is the first step to getting your child help. And it helps a lot!


Since the ages of 2-3 are such critical learning years, it’s important to provide kids with the support they need in order to express themselves and to fully communicate their wants and needs.


Early intervention for speech or language delays may dramatically minimize frustration for both you and your child, allowing them to learn and engage more fully in the world around them.

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