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Language and Speech Skills for Children Ages 2–3 Years

Speech and language skills develop quickly 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.

Little female child holding hand out

At 2 to 3 years of age, your child should use more words, follow directions, speak to others, know their name, and use pronouns.

Language milestones

At 2 to 3 years of age, your child should be able to:

  • Begin to understand words that have opposite meaning (hot/cold), words for where things are found (up/down), and words for size (big/little)
  • Follow 2- or 3-step directions for things that are not related, like “Put the ball in the cup, and give me the toy.”
  • Use words to talk about or name common objects.
  • Use 2- to 3-word phrases to talk about things such as “my toy,” and ask questions, like “Where’s Mommy?”
  • Name objects to give attention to them or ask for them
  • Use speech that friends and close family members can usually understand
  • Understand and use common action words, such as “running” and “jumping”
  • Name 1–2 colors
  • Answer simple questions, like “Where do you sleep?”
  • Say their name
  • Use pronouns, such as “I,” “me,” and “my”
  • Do more pretend play

How to help your child learn language and speech

  • Be a good speech model. Do not imitate your child's unclear speech. Help your child learn by saying words clearly, repeating, and calling objects by the correct name.
  • Talk to your child. Help your child talk more about what they are doing or seeing each day. For example, talk about the color, size, and shape of different fruits at the market. When you bathe your child, name the steps as you prepare the bath, saying, “First, I turn on the water.”
  • Teach your child new words and ideas by repeating and saying more about them. For example, if your child says, “pretty flower,” you can answer, “Yes, that is a pretty flower. The flower is bright red. It smells good, too. Do you want to smell the flower?”
  • Let your child know that talking to you is important. Ask your child to say things again that you do not understand. For example, say, “I know you want a block. Tell me again which block you want.”
  • Read with your child. Show them how to hold the book correctly and turn the pages. If you use a tablet or computer, let them push the buttons to move to the next page. Read stories at your child’s pace. If they want to point to pictures on each page before moving forward, let them do this.
  • Teach them new words by reading books with simple sentences on each page. Name the objects and describe the picture on each page of the book. Say words with similar meanings such as “dog” and “puppy.”
  • Use words your child knows in sentences to help them learn how to use them.
  • Look at family photos and name the people. Use simple sentences to describe what is happening in the pictures such as “You are swimming in the pool.”
  • Ask your child questions that make them choose something instead of giving a “yes” or “no” answer. For example, instead of “Do you want milk? Do you want water?” ask, “Would you like milk or water?” Wait for them to answer and encourage their efforts to speak.
  • Sing songs and tell rhymes. This helps children learn new words, rhymes, and how to put words in the correct order.
  • Use toys to teach your child new ideas. Sort blocks or toys, and talk about the colors, shapes, and sizes. Practice ideas such as “in,” “on,” “under,” and “beside.”

Signs of language or speech problems in your child

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

Learn more about Speech-Language Therapy.

Key points

  • The first 3 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 use more words, follow directions, speak to others, know their name, and use pronouns.
  • It is important to talk with your child, read stories together, sing songs, and play games that introduce new words and ideas.
  • Watch for any signs of speech delays, hearing loss, and other problems.
  • Speech therapy can help with speech, language, and communication problems.

For more information

See together.stjude.org for more information on related topics:

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


Reviewed: August 2022