What are the speech and language milestones and when should my child reach them?

Speech milestones are guidelines for when children should pronounce different sounds and for how clear their speech should be. Children typically pronounce the following English consonant sounds by age 3: m, n, h, p, w, d, b, f, k, g, “ng” (as in “ring”). They pronounce the following by age 4:  y, t, s, l, sh. By age 5 they pronounce: ch, z, r, z, j, v. By the age of 7, children typically produce all English consonants. Intelligibility is a perceptual judgment that is based on how much of the individual’s speech the listener understands. It can vary from “intelligible”, meaning the message is completely understood, to “unintelligible”, meaning none of the message is understood. Children’s speech should be approximately 25% understandable to unfamiliar listeners by age 1 year, 50% by age 2 years, 75% by age 3 years, and 100% by age 4 years. Familiar listeners (e.g., parents, caregivers, siblings) can often understand a higher percentage of what the child says than unfamiliar listeners. Children also simplify their speech in a patterned nature, called “phonological processes”. For example, children often produce consonant clusters as a single consonant so that a word like “plane” becomes “pane”. These phonological processes typically disappear between the ages of 3 and 5. 

Language milestones are guidelines for development of understanding and use of language, including vocabulary, syntax, grammar, and social skills. The following chart details some of the language skills your child should demonstrate according to his or her age. 


Language Skills

6-11 months

  • Respond to sounds by making sounds
  • Turns head toward sound source
  • String vowels together when babbling: “ah”, “eh”, “oh”
  • Coos and squeals for attention
  • Respond to own name
  • Make sounds to show joy and displeasure
  • Begin to say consonant sounds like “m” and “b”
  • Understand “no”
  • Copy sounds and gestures of others

1 year

  • Respond to simple spoken requests
  • Use simple gestures like shaking head “no” or waving “bye-bye”
  • Say “mama” and “dada” and exclamations like “uh-oh!”
  • Repeat actions that made someone laugh

2 years

  • Say several single words and sentences with 2-4 words
  • Say and shake head “no”
  • Point to show what he/she wants
  • Pair gestures with words
  • Point to things/pictures when they are named
  • Know names fo familiar people and body parts
  • Follow simple instructions
  • Repeat words overheard in conversation
  • Engage in parallel play
  • Imitate adult actions in play
  • Engage in simple pretend play (e.g., talking on a toy telephone)
  • Say social words like “bye”, “thank you”

3 years

  • Follow instructions with 2-3 steps
  • Name most familiar things
  • Understand words like “in, “on”, and “under”
  • Say first name, age
  • Say words like “I”, “me”, “we”, and “you” and some plurals (cars, dogs, cats)
  • Use wh- questions, like “where is the ball?”
  • Engage in conversation using 2-3 sentences

4 years

  • Know some basic rules of grammar, such as correctly using “he” and “she”
  • Sing a song from memory, such as the “Itsy Bitsy Spider”
  • Tell stories
  • Say first and last name
  • Use location words like “up” and “down”
  • Follow 2-step related directions without gesture cues
  • Take turns and play cooperatively
  • Express feelings and ideas

5 years

  • Tell a simple story using full sentences
  • Use future tense, like “Grandma will be here”
  • Follow 3-step directions without cues 
  • Use words to invite others to play


American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (2020). Speech sound disorders-Articulation and phonology.

Bowen, C. (2018). Table 1: Intelligibility.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2020). CDC’s developmental milestones. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/milestones/index.html

Lanza, J., & Flahive, L. (2008). Guide to communication milestones. East Moline, IL: LinguiSystems.

McLeod, S., & Crowe, K. (2018). Children's consonant acquisition in 27 languages: A cross-linguistic review. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 27(4), 1546-1571.

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