Learning to Talk: Speech and Language Milestones Birth to 3


The first 3 years of a child’s life are crucial to overall development; in just 3 short years a lot of changes occur, such as walking, talking, and developing a unique personality. It can be an exciting time for families as they watch their children develop new and exciting skills. But how do you know if your child is developing “normally” (especially if this is your first child)? I’m here to help you navigate through the first 3 years with this blog post about speech and language milestones.



Before discussing the milestones, I’d like to briefly explain the terminology used to describe communication. Understanding the differences between these terms is important in monitoring your child’s development.




There are two types of language: receptive and expressive. Receptive language is our ability to understand words. Receptive language is fundamental in the development of expressive language and speech. A child’s ability (or inability) to understand sounds and words will impact how s/he uses those words. Expressive language is our ability to express ourselves. Many people think that expressive language is synonymous with speech, but that, in fact, is not true. Expressive language is a broader term. It’s how we express ourselves in all modalities, whether it be speaking, writing, gesturing…Speech, however, is the physical act of talking; it is the way we make sounds.


So now that you understand the different aspects of speech and language, let’s see how your child is doing:


Before 6 months, a child typically:

Vocalizes and coos

Varies vocalizations based on needs

Begins babbling


By 1 year, a child typically:

Follows some simple directions

Identifies familiar objects

Enjoys Peek-a-Boo

Imitates sounds and words

Says a few words

Waves and uses gestures



Between the ages of 1 and 2, a child typically:

Points to objects/pictures upon request

Pays attention to books and pictures

Answers simple questions

Uses new words frequently

Begins combining words

Uses words instead of crying or gesturing

Says the b, d, p, m, n, and h sounds correctly

Is understood 50% of the time by age 2



Between the ages of 2 and 3, a child typically: 

Follows two-step directions

Uses 2- and 3-word phrases and sentences

Tries to have a conversation

Is understood 75% of the time by age 3

Says the w, t, k, g, and f sounds correctly


It’s important to keep in mind that all children are different and speech and language development can vary slightly from child to child. Think about your child in comparison to other children in your family or in your community that are around the same age. If your child is not following the pattern described above, or a pattern similar to those of the children in your family or community, your first step should be to have your child’s hearing tested by an audiologist. An audiologist is a hearing doctor and can complete a thorough examination of your child’s hearing ability (a pediatrician cannot perform this type of test). Hearing loss (even very mild hearing loss), as well as frequent ear infections or fluid in the ear, can impact a child’s speech and language development. After you’ve had your child’s hearing tested, your next step should be to contact a speech-language pathologist to have your child’s speech and language skills evaluated.




ASHA (n.d.). How does your child hear and talk?



Coplan, J., & Gleason, J.R. (1988. Unclear speech: recognition and significance of unintelligible speech in preschool children. Pediatrics, 82,447-452.


McLeod, S. (2009). Speech sound acquisition. In J.E. Bernthal, N.W. Bankson & P. Flipsen Jnr (Eds.), Articulation and phonological disorders: Speech sound disorders in children (6th ed., pp. 63-120 + 385-405). Boston, MA: Pearson Education.

Courtney Caruso
Courtney Caruso, M.S., CCC-SLP, is a bilingual (English/Spanish) speech-language pathologist and the owner and founder of Liberty Speech Associates LLC, a speech therapy practice in northern New Jersey. She ...
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