Vocabulary and language development in children at 2-3 years
At this age, your toddler’s vocabulary expands quickly – he might even learn new words each day. In general, your toddler understands more words than he can use.
Your child will use lots of nouns – for example, ‘baby’, ‘friend’, ‘car’ and ‘boat’. You’ll also hear more and more word types too, including:
- verbs – for example, ‘play’, ‘go’, ‘walk’
- adjectives – for example, ‘wet’, ‘sore’, ‘cloudy’
- pronouns – for example, ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘I’, ‘you’
- location words – for example, ‘in’, ‘on’.
Your child will start using words like ‘more’ and ‘most’, as well as words to make questions like ‘who’, ‘what’ and ‘where’.
And your child will start to say ‘me’, ‘mine’ and ‘you’. By three, she’ll understand the difference between ‘mine’ and ‘yours’.
Sentences and grammar in language development
As part of language development, your child will begin to use two-word sentences at around two years. By age three, he’ll be able to use sentences with three or more words – for example, ‘Mummy get in car’, ‘Me go too’ or ‘Put sock on foot’.
You’ll start to hear grammar and more structured sentences. For example, instead of ‘I go’, your child might say ‘I’m going’. You’ll also hear her use the past tense – for example, ‘walked’, ‘jumped’. And she’ll start using plurals like ‘cats’ or ‘horses’.
Your child might not always get it right when he uses plurals and past tense. For example, he might say ‘foots’ for ‘feet’, or ‘goed’ instead of ‘went’. This is because he’s still trying to figure out how language works.
Understanding and language development
Language development includes your child understanding more and more of what’s said to her and how it’s said.
Your child will understand one-step and two-step instructions, as long as they’re about things he already knows – for example, ‘Pick up your toys and put them in the box’ or ‘Come over here and have some apple’. He might still find it hard to follow instructions about unfamiliar objects or tasks.
Your child will begin to answer questions from adults about ‘who’, ‘what’ and ‘where’, but she might not yet understand how to answer ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions.
Your child can tell from the tone of your voice if you’re happy, affectionate or angry.
If your child is struggling to do something, he knows how to ask for your help.
And your child will understand household routines and guess what’s going to happen next in a routine. For example, if you tell her to put her boots on, she knows she’s going to the park.
Pronunciation in language development
By three, your child will use most of the speech sounds in his words, but he might still pronounce words differently from adults. For example, even though he can say the sounds ‘b’ and ‘l’, he might have trouble combining them together in ‘blue’. Some difficult sounds like ‘z’, ‘sh’, ‘f’, ‘v’, ‘r’, and ‘th’ might still be hard for your child to say.
By the time your child is three years old, unfamiliar people will be able to understand about three-quarters of what she’s saying.
Developing conversation skills
Your child will start to get the hang of speaking in turn, and he might be able to have a short conversation with you.
Your child will talk about things that have happened during the day. With your help, she might be able to put together a simple story – for example, your toddler might say ‘I go shop’. You might respond, ‘And what did you do at the shop?’ She’ll reply ‘Buy lollies’. By age three, she might be able to tell a simple ‘made-up’ story based on experiences she’s had, but she’ll probably leave out lots of detail.
Your child will talk about people and objects not present – for example, ‘Grandma at the shops’, ‘My ball in tree’.
And your child will start talking the same way you or other close adults talk. You might even hear your child say certain words the way you do. He might begin to ‘boss’ other people around, particularly younger children!
Play and language development
Your child will be able to play and talk by age three – for example, giving voices to the toys she’s playing with. She’ll also begin to play in groups with other children, sharing toys and taking turns.
You might hear your child playing with language through rhyming, singing and listening to stories. He might use an overly loud or soft voice when speaking.
Children grow and develop at different rates. The information in this article is offered as a guide only, and you know your child better than anyone else. Speak to your GP
or child and family health nurse
if you’re concerned about your child’s language development, if her language development seems to have stopped, or if she’s lost a language skill she once had. If your health professional doesn’t have concerns about your child, but you still do, it’s OK to get another opinion.