Child Development

Growing Language Skills in Early Childhood

When a Speech Pathologist talks about ‘language’ skills, they are referring to how we use words and sentences … and how we understand the words of others. Developing these skills in early childhood is important because they are the building blocks that help the child with social interaction, learning, and functioning in the big world outside of home. Children with poor language skills often fall behind in school and sometimes can find it difficult to form and maintain friendships.

Children learn these language skills best by interacting with others, some of the best tips for helping their language develop are by simply having fun together. Try:

  • Playing games like ‘Simon Says’
  • Reading books together, talking about what’s happening on each page and asking what do they think might happen next.
  • Making scrapbooks of pictures from your junk mail – label them and then organise them into categories together.
  • Play games that role play real life. …..and finally, talk together often.

If you are wondering whether your pre-schooler is on track – check these very broad guidelines by age.

At 3 years a child can usually


  • 2 part instructions – eg ‘give me the teddy’ and ‘throw the ball’
  • simple ‘wh’ questions like ‘when’, ‘who’, ‘what’ and ‘where’
  • the concepts of ‘same’ and ‘different’
  • how to sort things into groups – like ‘toys’ vs ‘ food’
  • and recognise the difference between basic colours


  • 4-5 words in a sentence
  • a variety of words for actions, names, places and descriptions
  • what they want to know – ie ask questions using ‘what’, ‘where’ and ‘who’
  • things that happened in the past – but may use ‘ed’ a lot for example ‘he goed there’
  • a lot in conversation but may not take turns or stay on topic

At 4 years a child can usually


  • and answer most questions about everyday events
  • most ‘wh’ questions including those related to a story they have heard
  • some numbers
  • and be aware that some words start and finish with the same sound


  • words like ‘and’, ‘but’ and ‘because’ to make longer sentences
  • a variety of words for actions, names, places and descriptions
  • what happened recently, like their morning routine
  • what they want to know, and ask lots of questions (often SO MANY questions)
  • he/she, me/you, don’t/can’t
  • numbers up to 5 and a few basic colours

At 5 years a child can usually


  • and follow 3 part instructions eg ‘put your shoes on’, ‘get your backpack’, ‘line up outside’
  • time-related words ‘before’, ‘after’, ‘now’, ‘later’
  • instructions without stopping to listen
  • and recognise some letters, sounds and numbers


  • well formed sentences that are understood by most people
  • what they are thinking; taking turns in longer conversation
  • simple short stories that have a beginning, middle and an end
  • verbs to describe ‘past’ and ‘present’ eg ‘went’, ‘will go’

What to do if you have concerns

Don’t ‘just wait and see’. It’s easier to help your child to get on track if you start early, by contacting the Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District Child and Family Health Speech Pathology Service on 180022608.

If you are not sure whether you should be concerned , book a time for a developmental check with a Child and Family Health Nurse by calling your local Community Health Centre

(adapted from Speech Pathology Australia Communication Milestones)

Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District