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How Does Your Child Hear and Talk?

The earlier a child's speech and language problems are identified and treated, the less likely it is for problems to persist or get worse. Early speech and language intervention can help children be more successful with reading, writing, schoolwork, and interpersonal relationships.

The following information represents, on average, the age by which most monolingual speaking children will accomplish the listed milestones.

Hearing Development Milestones

Hearing loss is the leading cause of delayed language development, according to the American Medical Association’s (AMA) Complete Guide to Your Children’s Health. When your baby is awake and alert they should startle at loud, sudden noises. They should also calm and turn to you when hearing your voice and react normally to nearby sounds.

While children learn language at different rates, the list below is a general timeline of development milestones. The milestone schedule for premature babies may vary by a few weeks or months. If you are concerned that your child is not meeting these milestones within several weeks of the average, you may want to consider having your child’s hearing tested.

Birth to 3 Months

  • Startled by loud sounds
  • Soothed by caretakers’ voices

3 to 6 Months

  • Reacts to the sound of caretakers’ voices
  • Turns eyes and head in the direction of the source of sounds
  • Enjoys rattles and noisy toys

7 to 10 Months

  • Responds to their own name
  • Understands “mama,” “dada,” “no,” “bye, bye” and other common words
  • Turns head toward familiar sounds, even when they cannot see what is happening: telephone, person’s voice, dog barking, paper rustling, familiar footsteps, etc.

11 to 15 Months

  • Locates or points to familiar objects when asked
  • Imitates and matches sounds with own speech production (though frequently unintelligible), especially in response to human voices or loud noises
  • Understands words by making appropriate responses or behavior:  “Where’s the dog?” “Find the truck.”

15 to 18 Months

  • Identifies things in response to questions (such as parts of the body)
  • Uses a few single words: while not complete or perfectly pronounced, the words should be clearly meaningful
  • Follows simple spoken directions

2 Years

  • Understands yes/no questions
  • Uses everyday words heard at home or at daycare/school
  • Enjoys being read to and shown pictures in books, points out pictures upon request
  • Interested in radio/television as shown by word or action
  • Puts words together to make simple sentences (although they are not complete or grammatically correct):  “Juice all gone” “Go bye-bye car”
  • Follows simple commands without visual clues from the speaker:  “Bring me that ball.” “Get your book and give it to Daddy.”
  • Says or sings short rhymes and songs and enjoys music
  • Investigates noises or tells others when interesting sounds are heard: Car door slamming, telephone ringing, knocking on the door
  • Vocabulary of approximately 270 words

3 Years

  • Understands and uses simple verbs, pronouns, and adjectives: Go, come, run, sing, me, you, him, her, big, green, sweet
  • Locates the source of a sound automatically
  • Often uses complete sentences
  • Vocabulary of approximately 1,000 words

4 Years

  • Gives connected account of some recent experiences
  • Can carry out a sequence of two simple directions:  “find your shoe and bring it her,” “Get the ball and throw it to the dog”

5 Years

  • Speech should be intelligible, although some sounds may still be mispronounced, such as the “s” sound which often blends with other consonants (e.g., “street,” “sleep,” “ask.”)
  • Neighbors and people outside the family can understand most of what your child says and their grammatical patterns should match most of the time
  • Child carries on conversations (although vocabulary may be limited)
  • Pronouns should be used correctly: “I” instead of “me” and “He” instead of “him”

Language Milestones for Children Ages 2-5

Age 2

Speech: Children should correctly use the sounds “b”, “p”, “m”, “h”, “d”, and “n” in their spontaneous speech. Children at this age may leave off some of their middle and ending sounds, but this should be resolved between 2 ½ and 3 years of age. Children should be about 50% intelligible to an unfamiliar listener.

Language: Children should use two to three word utterances (e.g. mommy car, ball go, read book, my turn), ask questions, label and identify known vocabulary (e.g. body parts, clothing, common toys), and follow basic directions without needing gestures.

Age 3

Speech: Children should correctly use the sounds “g”, “k”, “t”, “w”, and “y” in addition to the sounds they already have. Children should be about 75% intelligible to an unfamiliar listener. 

Language: Children should use and understand pronouns, answer “what” and “where” questions, understand state object function, understand negation (“not”) in sentences, use plural and possessive /s/, use and understand quantity concepts (e.g. all, some, none), and use basic sentences.

Age 4:

Speech: Children should correctly continue to use the sounds that they have already acquired. Additional sounds that may be emerging include “f,” “s”, “z”, “ch,” “sh,” and “j.” Children should be 100% intelligible to an unfamiliar listener.

Language: Children should use and understand qualitative concepts (e.g. tall, short), answer “why,” “when,” and “how” questions, use and understand color names, use and understand spatial concepts (e.g. in front, behind), and use adjectives while describing objects. They should be able to report about past events, exhibit reasoning skills, and predict events. Conjunctions (e.g. and, because, so, if) should be evident in their spontaneous language. Children should be able to appropriately interact with peers, use appropriate social language, and participate in classroom activities.

Age 5

Speech: Children should correctly use the sounds “j,” “sh,” “s”, “z”, “ch,” “l”, and some “l” blends (i.e. “block”). 

Language: They should be using increasingly complex language and incorporating dependent clauses into their spontaneous language. Children should follow classroom routine with reminders, follow group directions, and stay on topic in discussions. Children should be using these verb tenses in their spontaneous language: regular past tense, irregular past tense, regular third person singular (i.e. “jumps”), and irregular third person singular (i.e. “goes”).  Narratives should make sense and follow a systematic sequence in time.

**Children often have difficulty producing the sounds “r” and “th.” These sounds emerge later in a child’s speech development. We typically do not work on these sounds until about age 7.**

Information adapted from the Goldman-Fristoe Test of Articulation-2 Examiner’s Manual and the Preschool-Language Scale-4 Examiner’s Manual

Hearing Development Milestones

Parent of infants and children who do not exhibit age-level language and listening behaviors should seek help from their pediatrician and may want to consider testing by professional pediatric audiologist.

For more information, please contact MOSD:

(901) 758-2228

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