Language and Communication: The First Five Years (page 2)

— NYU Child Study Center
Updated on Jul 9, 2010

Second Year Milestones

Between 14 and 18 months the child

  • says four or more words clearly
  • names a few objects if someone points
  • labels pictures of common animals and objects
  • uses at least one word to express an idea. For example, she may say "eat"
  • asks for things by name
  • makes up own meaningful words
  • babbles or talks into a play phone and makes pretend conversations
  • follows simple commands

Between 18 and 20 months the child

  • listens to short stories or music
  • discriminates sounds; imitates words and sounds more frequently
  • uses l0-15 or more different words
  • follows verbal instructions, such as put the pencil on the table
  • may begin to "sing" simple tunes

Two-to-Three Year Milestones

At 2 years the child

  • uses simple sentences
  • refers to self by name
  • puts words together into noun-verb sentences (want cookie, see car)
  • refers to self by name
  • listens to short stories and identifies actions/characters in the book
  • asks "what's this?" or "where's my---?"
  • identifies body parts, clothing items, common objects and actions
  • follows simple two-step commands
  • comprehends terms that are opposites
  • has a spoken vocabulary of up to 300 words
  • uses the word 'no,' which signals a shift in the child's sense of self in relation to others and in his desire for independence

 By 3 years the child

  • has an understanding
  • of close to 50,000 words, and most of the communicative skills needed to function in society takes part in conversations
  • answers who, where, and when questions
  • adds many new words each month
  • uses sentences of at least 3-4 words
  • uses words to relate observations, concepts, ideas
  • understands simple time concepts: yesterday, lunchtime, tonight
  • matches and names colors
  • knows name and address
  • can recite some nursery rhymes and sing songs
  • can tell a story, although sequence may not be right
  • frequently asks questions
  • can produce m, n, p, b, t, d, w, without difficulty
  • may count but may still not understand quantity

As toddlers develop a sense of themselves as individuals, they learn to use words in addition to, or instead of, action to express their needs and reactions. By the end of toddlerhood the child uses language to express his needs and feelings and to interact with others in more diverse ways. Whereas behavior and crying were the main avenue for communication in infancy, the toddler is now able to use words that have universal meaning.

Four-and-five year Milestones

By 4, the child

  • uses connected sentences
  • tells experiences or simple events in sequence
  • reproduces short verses, rhymes, songs from memory speak clearly
  • argues with words
  • uses jokes and silly language
  • uses sentences of at least five words
  • acts out simple stories
  • in conversation, can answer questions, give information, repeat, convey ideas
  • asks why, when, how, where questions
  • understands implications of key words such as because
  • follows three unrelated commands
  • understands comparatives such as pretty, prettier, and prettiest
  • listens to long stories, but may misinterpret the facts
  • understands sequencing of events,

 By 5 the child

  • refines these skills
  • uses an expanded range of language and shows more variability in speech
  • uses words more precisely
  • uses more complex grammar and uses plurals and tense correctly
  • expresses herself in a varied tone of voice and inflection

From birth to five years of age, development proceeds at a pace more rapid than any other phase of life. During this time children quickly develop the abilities that help them to use language to communicate and to become competent in their social relationships.

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Early Childhood Development: The First Five Years

About the NYU Child Study Center

The New York University Child Study Center is dedicated to increasing the awareness of child and adolescent psychiatric disorders and improving the research necessary to advance the prevention, identification, and treatment of these disorders on a national scale. The Center offers expert psychiatric services for children, adolescents, young adults, and families with emphasis on early diagnosis and intervention. The Center's mission is to bridge the gap between science and practice, integrating the finest research with patient care and state-of-the-art training utilizing the resources of the New York University School of Medicine. The Child Study Center was founded in 1997 and established as the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry within the NYU School of Medicine in 2006. For more information, please call us at (212) 263-6622 or visit us at

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