What should my child be saying, and when?

By S&L Therapy

Early Speech and Language Development Benchmarks

Please Note: These benchmarks are general guidelines for skill acquisition.


Language Skills

Speech Production Skills

Birth to 6 months

  • Localizes to sound; listens to speech

  • Recognizes different voices

  • Smiles when spoken to

  • Social smiles


  • Makes vegetative sounds

  • Cooing, laughing, raspberries

  • Vocalize vowel sounds

  • Emergence of consonants, CV structures

  • Repeats sounds

6 to 12 months

  • Understands familiar words (e.g., "Juice")

  • Identifies a few body parts (1-3)

  • Can respond to simple request or questions (e.g., "All done?")

  • Develops early vocabulary for 1-3 words. 

  • Imitates actions

  • Interest in cause and effect toys. 

  • Babbling begins
    o    First, “reduplicated” or
          “canonical” babbling

    o    Then, “variegated” babbling using
          a variety of consonants and
          vowel combinations (e.g.,

  • Intonation patterns emerge

  • Reciprocal sound imitation

  • Produces mostly unintelligible utterances.


12 to 18 months

  • Understands words as part of a routine.

  • Understands and follows simple commands.

  • Identifies additional body parts.

  • First 50 words emerge.
    o    Children are using language to
          request ,comment, reject
    o    Seeks interactions with adults
    o    Shows interest in peers

  • By 18 months, children are expressing single word semantic roles.  For example, “Mama!,” “Ball!”


  • Many words are approximations of adult forms.  Children may omit final sounds of words (e.g., "ha" for "hat”). 

  • A multitude of sounds errors are common.


24 months

  • Understands and follows simple single step directions (e.g., “Put your shoes on.”)

  • Answers simple “

  • “WH”-questions

  • A “language burst” occurs (between 18-24 months)!  Vocabulary expands to 200+ words by 24 months.

  • Begins to combine 2 words together to express wants, needs and observations about their immediate environment.  Language is telegraphic.  They are not yet using grammatical sentences.  For example, “Ball go!,” “Mama shoe”

  • Interacts with adults

  • Requests information

  • Answers questions

  • Acknowledges

  • Engages in interactive play with adults

  • Parallel play emerges

  • Can participate in small group activities with adult support


  • At 2 years old = 50 % intelligible

  • By 2 years old, most kids can produce: p,b,m,h,n,w,t,d

  • Use of CV, VC, CVC, CVCV syllable structures emerges

  • Simplifications of adult word forms is very common


24-36 months

  • Understands and follows 2 step directions

  • Comprehends some wh-questions (what is that?, Where?)

  • Demonstrates understanding of:  

  • Concepts: in, on, off, under, out of, together, away from

  • qualities: soft/hard, heavy/light

  • Expressive vocabulary of 200-300 words.

  • Complexity of sentences increases

  • Emergence of grammatical sentences

  • Present progressive (“-ing”)

  • Prepositions (e.g., “off,” “in,” “out”)

  • Plurals (e.g., “books”)

  • Negatives ( e.g., “no,” “not,” “can’t”)

  • Copula (“to be”) used inconsistently

  • Early subject pronouns (“I,” “you,” “it”) then, “he,” “she,” “they.”

  • At 3 years old= 75% intelligible

  • Omits middle sounds of longer words.


3-4 years

  • Vocabulary expands to 500-1000 words.

  • Understands and answers additional “Wh”-questions (what?, where? who?)

  • Demonstrates understanding of:  

  • Concepts: up, top, around, apart, toward, in front of, high, in back, next to (3 ½ -4 years old)

  • Qualities: fast/slow, same/different, etc.

  • Comprehends and follow multi-step directions

  • Complex sentence forms emerge; 4-5 word sentences.

  • Uses a variety of grammatical forms and sounds more adult-like.

  • Copula and auxiliary verbs (“Be verbs” e.g.,  am, is , are)

  • Irregular Past Tense ( e.g., went)

  • Articles (e.g., a, the)

  • Possessives (e.g., daddy’s)

  • Auxiliary verbs in questions (e.g., Can I?, Will you?)

  • Conjoining sentences (and, because)

  • Talks about past events; re-tells 2 related events.

  • Can produce most sounds.

  • Uses all initial and final consonants in words.

  • May make sound substitutions

  • By 4 years old, most kids can produce: k,g,f,v,y


4-5 years

  • Comprehends stories with fewer pictures; Understands and can answer wh-questions pertaining to a story.

  • Understands “when?” and “why?”

  • Demonstrates understanding of:  

  • Concepts: besides, bottom, backward, forward, down, low, between, inside, above, below (4- 4 ½ years old)

  • Qualities: rough/smooth, bigger/smaller, etc.

  • Sentence forms used consistently; Uses adult-like forms

  • Uses Be verbs, past tense, third person plurals

  • Uses conjunctions which are temporal (when….) and causal (so, because…)

  • Asks how? and why? questions

  • Predicts, reasons, problem solves.

  • Narratives develop – HEAP; tells about past events in a sequence.

  • Letter names, sound correspondences emerge

  • Phonological awareness

  • At 5 years old= 100% intelligible

  • May continue to make errors for later developing sounds( such as  r, s,z, th)