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Speech and Language Milestones: the Third Year

What exciting speech and language accomplishments will your child make in the third year?  From 24–36 months, vocabulary explodes from an average of 200 spoken words at 24 months to an average of 900–1,000 spoken words at 36 months. Throughout the third year, your little one is likely to become quite the conversationalist as he or she gets better at asking and answering questions, taking turns, talking about past events, and understanding more complicated language.

The clarity of your child’s speech should also improve significantly during this time. Although your child may sometimes simplify speech (e.g., say “nana” for “banana”), by age 3, speech should be understood by you and others at least 75 percent of the time. The following milestones are general guidelines for speech and language development during the third year.


Able to use a wide variety of words (nouns, verbs, adjectives, pronouns, prepositions) to talk about most things in his or her environment

Describes and requests using at least 2-3 words

Able to use the sounds k, g, t, d, f, n

Familiar listeners can understand what child is saying most of the time

Able to name objects to request them or direct another’s attention to them


Recognizes that different words have different meanings (e.g. opposites such as “big / little” and prepositions such as “in / on / under”)

Can answer who, what, where, and yes/no questions

Able to follow 2-step directions (e.g. “Pick up your shoes and put them in the basket.”)

Able to pay attention to more complex stories for an increasingly longer period of time

If by 36 months your child shows any of the following speech and language red flags, a visit to a speech-language pathologist is in order:

Unable to understand basic directions

Unable to answer simple yes/no or wh- questions

Does not use simple 3-4 word sentences to communicate

Does not show interest in playing with other children or toys

Does not demonstrate pretend play

Speech is very hard to understand (clear less than 75% of the time) or drools frequently

Leaves off beginning or ending sounds of many words

Loses previously learned skills


  • American Speech-Language-Hearing Association
  • How Does Your Child Hear and Talk?
    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Important Milestones: Your Child at Two Years.
    American Academy of Pediatrics
  • Language Development: 2 Years Old.

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