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Speech, language and communication stages

All children develop their speech, language and communication skills at different rates, but here are some ideas of what to expect and when.

Birth to 6 months

Parents and baby close up

From birth to 6 months, your baby: 

  • Moves their head or body to find sounds when they hear them
  • Makes noises when they hear a sound, or someone speak
  • Smiles at you or moves their arms, legs, and body when you talk to them
  • Listens when you sing songs to them or play with them
  • Stops what they are doing when they hear a new voice or sound
  • Is startled by loud noises
  • Has a different cry to get their needs met, e.g. one cry for hunger and another when they are tired

For more information, see NHS Start for Life 0-6 months

6-12 months

From 6-12 months, your baby can:

  • Look at you when you call their name
  • Recognise the name of familiar objects such as “dog” and “teddy”
  • Babble strings of sounds such as “DaDa” 
  • Understand words that are important to them such as blanket or milk and will look for them or point to them
  • Smile and laugh back at people
  • Get your attention by making noises or pointing at what they want

For more information, see NHS Start for Life 6-12 months.

12-18 months

From 12-18 months, your baby can:

  • Join in the actions to nursery rhymes and songs
  • Understand words for everyday objects
  • Find an object that you name
  • Understand two-word phrases such as “more milk” or “where’s Mummy?”
  • Say approximately 20 single words such as dog or car, even if they are not clear
  • Sit and look at a picture book with an adult

18-24 months

From 18-24 months, your toddler can:

  • Understand between 200 and 500 words
  • Put a 2–3-word sentence together such as “more milk” or “bye, bye daddy”
  • Sit and listen to a simple story and look at the pictures
  • Use approximately 50 single words but recognise many more
  • Copy sounds and words
  • Enjoy pretend play with their toys

For more information, see NHS Start for Life 1-2 years

2-3 years

From 2-3 years, your child can:

  • Understand simple questions such as “Who?”, “Where?” and “What?” 
  • Make short sentences using 4-5 words such as “Want more milk” or “Daddy read my story”
  • Use up to 300 words
  • Ask lots of questions to find out the names of new words
  • Use action words such as play and run as well as name things 
  • Understand longer questions such as “where are your shoes?”

For more information, see NHS Start for Life 2-3 years

3-4 years

Mother holding child in a field

From 3-4 years, your child can:

  • Use longer sentences
  • Sit and listen to longer stories and ask questions about what they have been read
  • Understand and use time, colour, and number related words such as “play tomorrow”, “yellow bus” and “two dogs”
  • Enjoy “pretend” play such as making a cup of tea
  • Describe something they have done such as “played in park”
  • Ask lots of “what?”, “when?”, “where?” questions

4-5 years

From 4-5 years, your child can:

  • Engage in conversation and take turns talking and listening
  • Understand spoken instructions without stopping what they are doing
  • Listen to their friends if they are interested in what they are saying
  • Join in with rhymes and stories, talk about them and guess what happens next
  • Understand sequences such as “First put your coat on, then we will go to the park.”
  • Use and understand positional language such as behind, below, in front of

For more information, see NHS Start for Life 3-5 years

Speech and Language UK also has more information on ages and stages

The content of this page has been co-produced in partnership with the iHV.

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