Children’s communication skills, particularly in the early years of life, develop at a rapid and varied rate. It can be tricky to determine if your child is on the right track or whether speech therapy support is a good idea.

This blog helps you to identify what happens and when; setting out the communication milestones we’d expect children to be reaching between 18 months and 5 years. Use this information to find out whether your child is on the right track and get in touch with us to ask about speech therapy if you have concerns about any of their communication abilities.

The importance of seeking help early cannot be underestimated. With the right early intervention, children make better progress, the longer-term impacts are minimised and many children can even catch up.

Age 18 months 

Children can usually:

  • understand up to 50 words and some short phrases

  • follow simple instructions (e.g., ‘throw the ball’)

  • point to familiar objects when names

  • point to some pictures in familiar books

  • say 6-20 single words – some easier to understand than others, but becoming more consistent

  • copy lots of words and noises

  • name a few body parts

  • use objects in pretend play (e.g., hold toy phone to their ear and say “hello?”).

At 2 years

Children can usually:

  • follow simple two-part instructions (e.g., ‘give me the ball and the car’)

  • respond to simple wh- questions, such as ‘what’ and ‘where’

  • point to several body parts and pictures in books when named

  • understand when an object is ‘in’ and ‘on’ something

  • say more than 50 single words

  • put two words together (e.g., ‘bye teddy’, ‘no ball’)

  • use their tone of voice to ask a question (e.g., ‘teddy go?’)

  • say ‘no’ when they do not want something

  • use most vowel sounds and a variety of consonants (m, n, p, b, k, g, h, t, w, d)

  • start to use ‘mine’ and ‘my’

At 3 years 

Children can usually:

  • follow more complex two part instructions (e.g., ‘give me the teddy and throw the ball’)

  • understand simple wh-questions, such as ‘what’, ‘where’ and ‘who’

  • understand the concepts of ‘same’ and ‘different’

  • sort items into groups when asked (e.g., toys vs animals)

  • recognise some basic colours

  • say four to five words in a sentence

  • use a variety of words for names, actions, locations and descriptions

  • ask ‘who’, ‘what’ and ‘where’ questions

  • talk about something in the past, but may use ‘-ed’ a lot (e.g., ‘he goed to the beach’)

  • have a conversation, but may not take turns or stay on topic

At 4 years 

Children can usually:

  • answer most questions about daily tasks

  • understand most wh-questions, including those about a story they have recently heard

  • understand some numbers

  • show an awareness that some words start or finish with the same sounds

  • use words, such as ‘and’, ‘but’ and ‘because’, to make longer sentences

  • describe recent events, such as morning routines

  • ask lots of questions

  • use personal pronouns (he/she, me/you) and negations (e.g., don’t/can’t)

  • count to five and name a few colours

At 5 years 

Children can usually:

  • follow three part instructions (e.g., ‘put on your shoes, get your backpack and line up outside’)

  • understand time related words (e.g., ‘before’, ‘after’, ‘now’ and ‘later’)

  • start thinking about the meaning of words when learning

  • understand instructions without stopping to listen

  • begin to recognise some letters, sounds and numbers.

  • use well formed sentences to be understood by most people

  • take turns in increasingly longer conversations

  • tell simple, short stories with a beginning, middle and end

  • use past and future verbs correctly (e.g., ‘went’, ‘will go’)

  • use most speech sounds, but may still have difficulties with ’s’, ‘r’, ‘l’ and ‘th’.


The Communication Trust. (n.d.). Universally speaking: The ages and stages of children’s communication development from birth to 5 years. Retrieved 2017 from

The Communication Trust (2014). Early identification and why it’s important for pupils in your school. Retrieved 2017, from

Paul, R., and Norbury, C. F. (2012). Language disorders from infancy through adolescence (4th Ed). St. Louis, US: Elsevier Mosby.

Roth, F., and Worthington, C. (2011). Treatment resource manual for speech-language pathology (4th Ed). NY: Delmar.