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From that first coo to the full play-by-play of their day at school, children's language skills usually develop in an orderly fashion. Here's an idea of what to expect when – but it's perfectly normal for a child to hit these milestones a little early or a little late.
|Birth to 3 months|
Makes quiet cooing sounds when pleased. These are typically a single vowel, like ahhhh.
|2 to 3 months|
Cries differently in different situations. As you get to know your baby, you may be able to distinguish a hunger cry from the cry he makes when he's tired, for example.
|3 to 4 months|
Vocalizes mostly vowels, but cooing becomes a little more sophisticated, with more varied sounds. Begins to babble, making sounds like "muh-muh" or "bah-bah"
|5 to 6 months|
Practices intonation by making her voice rise and fall, often in response to baby talk and your facial expressions.
Red flag: If your child isn't making vocal sounds by the time she's 6 months old, talk with her doctor.
|7 to 12 months|
Babbles with greater diversity, making new sound combinations and intonations. Tries to imitate your speech with phrases like "bah-BAH-bah" or "dee-dee-dah." Has pretend conversations with you, taking turns "talking."
Red flag: If your child isn't making both consonant and vowel sounds by age 7 months, talk with his doctor.
Says his first word. Knows one or more words well enough to use them.
Uses inflection (for example, raises her voice at the end of a question, like, "more?") and makes hand gestures to complement her speech.
Red flag: If your child isn't saying any words by age 15 months, bring it up with her doctor.
Talks to someone much of the time as opposed to just babbling to no one in particular. Calls you to get your attention ("Mommy!"), nods and shakes head for yes and no. Makes many common consonant sounds, like t, d, n, w, and h.
Has a vocabulary of about 10 to 20 words, including names ("Mama"), verbs ("eat"), and adjectives ("cold"). Uses common phrases ("want doll") to make requests.
|18 to 24 months|
Starts putting two-word phrases together for more novel purposes ("Daddy go," "milk mess").
Knows 50 to 100 words. Uses short, two- or three-word sentences and personal pronouns ("I fall down!" "Me go school?").
|2 to 3 years|
Can carry on a simple conversation about something in the immediate environment. Asks simple questions frequently. Expands phrases from three- to six-word sentences and develops a vocabulary of 200 to 300 words, including lots of verbs.
Uses past tense by adding a "d" sound to verbs ("runned") and plurals by adding an "s" sound to nouns ("mans"). Uses pronouns (I, she, we) correctly.
Red flag: If your 2- or 3-year-old always echoes your questions instead of answering them, tell her doctor. This could be an early sign of a social or language delay. (If she occasionally repeats your question as part of her response, it's nothing to worry about.)
|3 to 4 years|
Favorite words often include "why," "what," and "who." Can be understood most of the time. Can tell you what happened if you were out of the room.
Red flag: Your child may sound as though he's stuttering if he gets tripped up on his words in his excitement to communicate. This is perfectly normal. If it continues for more than six months, though, or if he tenses his jaw or grimaces while trying to get the words out, ask your child's doctor for a referral to a speech pathologist.
|4 to 5 years|
Communicates easily and can retell a simple story with a beginning, middle, and end while looking at pictures. Can use four to five sentences to describe a picture, with most of the grammar elements in place. Uses more than one action word in a sentence.
Pronounces most sounds correctly but may still have trouble with th, r, s, l, v, ch, sh, and z. Uses lots of descriptive words, including time-related words like "yesterday."
|6 to 7 years|
Can describe how two items are the same or different, retell a story or event without the help of pictures, and recount past conversations and events. Uses some irregular plural nouns ("men," "teeth").
Has mastered all speech sounds as well as the rate, pitch, and volume of speech. Uses complex and compound sentences correctly and is capable of carrying on a conversation with an adult.
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Darienne Hosley Stewart is a content strategist, writer, and editor.
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