Understanding Speech and Language Delay

Children with a speech and/or language delay develop communication skills at a slower rate than expected.

Language refers to a child’s expressive and receptive skills, demonstrated and applied through meaningful interactions

Speech refers to a child’s production of verbal language, including their articulation and intelligibility

It is important to identify speech and language delay as early as possible in order to commence early intervention.

The following is a table describing age-appropriate milestones:

Age Speech Milestones Language Milestones
Birth to 1 Child starts experiments with sounds and syllables (e.g. ‘ba’ ‘ma’)
  • Recognizes name
  • Understands simple instructions
  • Says 2-3 single words
  • Begins to imitate familiar words
1-2 years Child starts putting sounds and syllables together to make words
  • Uses 10-20 words including names
  • Combines two words (“mummy go”)
  • Makes sounds of familiar animals
  • Points to common body parts
2-3 years Experimenting with
‘h’, ‘p’, ‘b’, ‘k’, ‘m’, ‘n’, ‘w’ and ‘ng’ (e.g. ring)
  • Carries conversation with themselves and toys
  • Asks questions e.g. “what’s that?
  • Has 450 word vocabulary
  • Names common pictures or things
3-4 years Correct production of
‘h’, ‘p’, ‘m’, ‘n’, ‘w’, ‘b’, ‘d’ and ‘ng’ (e.g. ring)
  • Tells stories
  • Uses 4-5 word sentences
  • Vocabulary of 1000 words
4-5 years Correct production of
‘k’, ‘g’, ‘f’, ‘l’ and ‘y’ (e.g. yes)
  • Knows names of familiar animals and colours
  • Can repeat 4 digits when they are given slowly
  • Can usually repeat words of four syllables
  • Vocabulary of nearly 1500 words
  • Can speak in imaginary contexts
5-6 years Correct production of
‘zh’ (e.g. measure), ‘sh’ and ‘ch’.
Developing ‘t’, ‘s’, ‘z’, ‘r’, ‘v’, ‘j’
  • Sentence length of 5-6 words
  • Vocabulary of around 2000 words
  • Counts 10 objects

Language Delay

Language delay can be early signs of associated disorders including autism spectrum disorder, verbal dyspraxia, or auditory processing or hearing disorders. Furthermore, language delays can lead to learning problems, which are usually identified in later school years.

Speech and Language

Early detection of a speech and language delay leads to early intervention, which has a host of benefits, including implementing compensatory strategies and environment modification and decreasing the impact that the child’s speech and language delay has on their learning, communication and social skills in the future.



How do I know if my child has language delay?

All children develop and acquire speech and language at different rates. Please use the table below to guide your understanding of the developmental milestone for speech and language for typically developing children. If you have any concerns that your child is not following the developmental milestones, seek advice from a speech and language pathologist.




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