Need to talk? Call 1800 882 436.
It's a free call with a maternal child health nurse. *call charges may apply from your mobile

Is it an emergency? Dial 000
If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately.

beginning of content

Speech development in children

2-minute read

Language development varies considerably between children, even within the same family. However, children tend to follow a natural progression for mastering the skills of language and there are certain milestones that can be identified as a rough guide to normal development.

How does speech develop over time?

Babies need to learn how language sounds before being able to learn how to speak.

Although individual children develop at their own rate, there are some general patterns:

  • From 1 to 3 months of age, babies cry and coo.
  • At 4 to 6 months of age, babies sigh, grunt, gurgle, squeal, laugh and make different crying sounds.
  • Between 6 and 9 months, babies babble in syllables and start imitating tones and speech sounds.
  • By 12 months, a baby's first words usually appear, and by 18 months to 2 years children use around 50 words and will start putting two words together into a short sentences.
  • From 2-3 years, sentences extend to 4 and 5 words. Children can recognise and identify almost all common objects and pictures, as well as use pronouns (I, me, he, she) and some plurals. Strangers can understand most words.
  • From 3-5 years, conversations become longer, and more abstract and complex.
  • By the time a child turns 5, they usually have a 2,500 word vocabulary and talk in complete, grammatically correct sentences. They ask a lot of ‘why?’, ‘what?’ and ‘who?’ questions.

How can parents help with speech development?

You can encourage your baby to start talking by:

  • Making faces and noises and talking about your activities from the day they’re born.
  • Playing interactive games like peek-a-boo and singing nursery rhymes.
  • Looking at books from an early age — you don’t have to read the words, just talk about what you can see.
  • Talking slowly and clearly and using short, simple sentences — if your child is already talking, try using sentences that are a word or so longer than the sentences they use themselves.
  • Avoiding testing, such as asking 'What's this?', as children learn better without pressure.
  • Not criticising wrong words and instead saying the word properly — for example, if your baby points to a cat and says ‘Ca!’ say: ‘Yes, it’s a cat’.
  • Letting your child lead the conversation and help them expand on their thoughts.
  • Giving your child lots of opportunities to talk, with plenty of time to answer your questions.
  • Reducing background noise such as TV, and limiting supervised TV watching for older children.

Consult your doctor or child health nurse if:

  • By 12 months, your child is not trying to communicate with you (using sounds, gestures and/or words), particularly when needing help or wanting something
  • By 2 years, your child isn’t saying about 50 words or hasn’t started combining words.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: February 2019


Back To Top

Need more information?

Speech problems in children

Speech problems are common in young children but some speech troubles can indicate a speech or development delay. Find out when to seek further advice.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Stuttering in children

Stuttering is a speech disorder that usually starts between the ages of two and five years. Learn more about symptoms, causes, treatment and when to seek help.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Language development: children 0-8 years | Raising Children Network

Language development in children is amazing. And at 0-8 years, lots of talking and listening together is the secret to helping your child learn language.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Language development in autistic children | Raising Children Network

Autistic children can find it hard to learn and use language. You can help by creating reasons to use language, playing, modelling and rewarding language.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Language development in children 1-2 years | Raising Children Network

Language development in children 1-2 years is amazing. Your child starts understanding what you say. By two, you can partly understand what she says too!

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Baby language development: 3-12 months | Raising Children Network

At 3-12 months, there’s a lot happening with baby language development. Expect your baby to coo, laugh, play with sounds, babble and gesture. Read more.

Read more on raisingchildren.net.au website

Bilingual children- teaching children a second language

Second language development in children requires teaching. Multilingual learning resources like flashcards can help children learn English and other languages.

Read more on Parenthub website

Hearing loss in children

Learn more about how the signs of hearing loss in children, causes, diagnosis and possible treatments depending on the cause and severity.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Language development – the early years | Sydney Children's Hospitals Network

Right from birth, babies learn language and communication skills and are able to react to different sounds

Read more on Sydney Children's Hospitals Network website

Your baby's growth and development - 9 months old

Your 9-month-old will, by now, really be developing their personality. They will form stronger attachments with a few people, preferring some over others.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

Need further advice or guidance from our maternal child health nurses?

This information is for your general information and use only and is not intended to be used as medical advice and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any medical condition, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes.

The information is not a substitute for independent professional advice and should not be used as an alternative to professional health care. If you have a particular medical problem, please consult a healthcare professional.

Except as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, this publication or any part of it may not be reproduced, altered, adapted, stored and/or distributed in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of Healthdirect Australia.