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What to Watch, Listen for in Children

July 09, 2001

As with almost everything, children vary in their development of speech and language. There are, however, identifiable "milestones" that can help determine if a child falls within the "normal" range. Here are some milestones by age:

Birth to 6 months: Reacts to loud sounds. Turns head toward a sound source. Laughs, cries and fusses. Makes noise when talked to.

6 months to 1 year: Repeats repetitive syllables or babbles, such as "da, da, da." Tries to communicate by actions or gestures. Attempts to repeat your sounds.

1 year to 18 months: Follows simple directions accompanied by gestures. Answers simple questions nonverbally. Can recognize and point to common objects. Tries to imitate simple words.

18 to 24 months: Follows simple directions without gestures. Says eight to 10 words. Understands simple verbs such as "eat" and "sleep." Correctly pronounces most vowels and n, m, p and h (particularly at the beginning of syllables and short words).

2 to 3 years: Says about 40 words at 24 months. Answers simple questions. Speaks in two-to three-word phrases. Speech becomes more accurate but may still leave off ending sounds. (Strangers may not be able to understand much of what is said.)

3 to 4 years: Uses most speech sounds but may distort some of the more difficult sounds such as l, r, s, sh, ch, y, v, z and th. (These sounds may not be fully mastered until age 7 or 8.) Strangers are able to understand most of what is said. Expresses ideas and feelings verbally.

4 to 5 years: Understands complex questions. Speech is understandable but makes mistakes pronouncing long, difficult or complex words, such as "hippopotamus." Says about 200 to 300 words.

5 years: Understands more than 2,000 words. Engages in conversation. Uses sentences of eight or more words in length.


Source: National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. More information is available at

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