By Raising Children Network
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Two toddlers together
What’s happening with language development in children between the ages of two and three years? Your toddler’s vocabulary will probably double. She’ll speak in longer sentences, and she might play and talk at the same time. Strangers will probably be able to understand most of what she says by the time she’s three.

Vocabulary and language development 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 uses.

Your child will use lots of nouns – for example, ‘baby’, ‘friend’, ‘car’, ‘boat’. You’ll also hear more and more other 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’, and 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 his 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’, ‘Put sock on foot’.

You’ll start to hear grammar and more structured sentences – for example, word endings like ‘I go’ become ‘I’m going’. You’ll also hear the past tense – for example, ‘walked’, ‘fished’ – and plurals like ‘cats’ or ‘horses’.

Your child might not always get it right when she uses plurals and past tense. For example, she might say ‘foots’ for ‘feet’, or ‘goed’ instead of ‘went’. This is because she’s still trying to work out how language works.

Understanding and language development

Language development includes your child understanding more and more of what is said to him.

Your child will understand one-step and two-step instructions, as long as they’re about things she already knows – for example, ‘Pick up your toys and put them in the box’ or ‘Come over here and have some apple’. She might still find it hard to follow instructions about unfamiliar objects or tasks.

Your child will also begin to answer questions from adults about ‘who’, ‘what’ and ‘where’, but might not yet understand how to answer ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions.

Your child will know how to ask you for help if he can’t do something.

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’ll be going to the park.

Pronunciation in language development

By three, your child will use most of the speech sounds in his words, but 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 pronounce.

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 might be able to have a short conversation with you.

He’ll talk about things that have happened during the day. With some prompting, he might be able to sequence things into a simple story – for example, ‘I go shop’.  ‘And what did you do at the shop?’  ‘Buy lollies.’ By age three, he might be able to tell a simple ‘made-up’ story based on experiences he’s had, but will 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 your partner talk, mimicking your pronunciation and emphasis. She 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 he’s playing with. He’ll 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. She 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. You know your child better than anyone else – if you’re concerned about your child’s language development, talk to your GP, child and family health nurse or other health professional. If your health professional doesn’t have concerns about your child, but you still do, it’s OK to get another opinion.
  • Last updated or reviewed 01-02-2016