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Language and Speech Skills for Children Ages 3-4 Years

Speech and language skills develop quickly during the early years of a child’s life, especially in the first 3 years of life. These skills progress at slightly different rates for every child. However, language usually follows natural stages or milestones based on a child’s age.

Language milestones

At 3 to 4 years, your child should be able to:

  • Speak in sentences of 4 or more words
  • Talk about daily activities with ease
  • Speak so that people outside of your family can understand them 
  • Understand and answer simple who, what, and where questions
  • Know action words (jump, play, eat)
  • Understand sizes (big, little) and location (on, under, or behind)
  • Know how people use objects (What do you do with a cup?) 
  • Ask and answer “yes” and “no” questions (Is he tall?)
  • Listen to short stories read aloud

How to help your child learn language and speech

  • Sort pictures and items into groups. Ask your child to point to what does not belong with the group. For example, a baby does not belong with a dog, cat, and mouse. If they answer correctly, tell them they are right because a baby is not an animal.
  • Help your child use more words and speak longer sentences. 
  • Read, sing, or talk about what you are doing or say rhymes.
  • Read or tell stories that are easy to follow. Talk about the story with your child. Ask your child what part of the story was their favorite and say what you liked.  
  • Act out stories using objects like dolls or puppets or dress in a costume for fun. 
  • Look at family pictures. Ask your child to describe what is happening in each one.
  • After reading a story, ask your child questions about what they heard.
  • Ask questions that make them choose between two objects or activities. (Do you want an apple or an orange? Do you want to play inside or outside?) 

Signs of speech or language problems in your child 

In some cases, children with illnesses may reach milestones later than usual. This may be due to change in their environment, routine, or social interactions. Or, the illness or treatment might harm hearing, learning, and processing skills.

Your child may have a speech or language problem if they have:

  • Difficulty understanding and expressing language
  • Delay in developmental milestones
  • Trouble forming some sounds, dropping sounds, slurring words, or stuttering
  • Issues sucking, chewing, swallowing
  • Problems making their lips, tongue, or jaw move properly
  • Difficulty being understood by others
  • Tendency not to talk

Signs of hearing loss in children

Hearing loss can slow or prevent the development of language and speech. Look for signs that your child’s hearing is developing normally. If your child can hear, they usually will:

  • Know the sound of your voice and get quiet when you talk to them
  • Respond when you say their name
  • Wake up from sleeping when there is a loud noise 
  • Make noises to get your attention
  • Turn their head toward someone speaking or toward sounds that interest them
  • Enjoy the sound of music or toys that make noise
  • Imitate common sounds they hear
  • Respond when they hear voices on a phone

Pay attention to ear problems and infections, especially when they happen often. Contact your doctor if you have questions. Your doctor may refer you to an audiologist to have your child's hearing tested. An audiologist is a health care provider who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of hearing problems. If your audiologist says your child needs a hearing aid, your child must use it to help their language and speech skills.

Find more information on Audiology and Hearing Care.

Therapy for language and speech problems

If your child has problems with speech or language, your care provider may recommend speech therapy.  

A speech therapist or speech-language pathologist is a care provider who can help your child with speech and language problems. A speech therapist or pathologist models correct sounds and syllables for your child. They also give ideas and homework for you and your child to do at home. This provider may also recommend additional tests or testing to better develop a plan for your child.  

Your provider may refer your child to an audiologist to have your child's hearing tested. If your audiologist says that your child needs a hearing aid, they must use one.  Poor hearing can slow down their learning and language skills and hurt their social skills.

For more information

See for more information on related topics:

If you have questions about language development, call your health care provider.

Key Points

  • The early years of your child's life are important for learning speech and language. 
  • Most children develop speech and language skills in stages (milestones).  
  • Your child should be able to do things like talk in sentences of 4 or more words, speak so people can understand them, answer simple questions, know action words, and understand how people use objects. 
  • Watch for any signs of hearing loss and other problems with speech and language. 

Reviewed: August 2022