Vocabulary and language development in children at 2-3 years
At this age, your child’s vocabulary expands quickly – they might even learn new words each day. In general, your child understands more words than they can use.
Your child will use a lot of nouns – for example, ‘baby’, ‘friend’ or ‘car’. You’ll hear other word types too, including:
- verbs – for example, ‘play’, ‘go’
- adjectives – for example, ‘wet’, ‘sore’
- pronouns – for example, ‘I’, ‘you’
- location words – for example, ‘in’, ‘on’.
Your child will start using words like ‘more’ and ‘most’, as well as words that make questions, like ‘who’, ‘what’ and ‘where’.
And your child will start to say ‘me’, ‘mine’ and ‘you’. By three years, you child will 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, they’ll be able to use sentences with three or more words – for example, ‘Mummy get in car’ or ‘Me go too’.
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 your child use the past tense – for example, ‘walked’, ‘jumped’. And they’ll start using plurals like ‘cats’ or ‘horses’.
Your child might not always get it right when they use plurals and past tense. For example, your child might say ‘foots’ for ‘feet’, or ‘goed’ instead of ‘went’.
Understanding and language development
Language development includes your child understanding more of what’s said to them and how it’s said. Your child will understand a lot more than they can say.
Your child will understand one-step and two-step instructions, as long as they’re about things they already know – for example, ‘Pick up your toys and put them in the box’. They 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 they 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.
Pronunciation in language development
By three, your child will use most of the speech sounds in their words, but they might still pronounce words differently from adults. For example, even though your child can say the sounds ‘b’ and ‘l’, they 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.
When your child is two years old, unfamiliar people can usually understand about half of what your child says. By the time your child is three years old, unfamiliar people can usually understand about three-quarters of what they’re 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.
Your child will talk about things that have happened during the day. With your help, they 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?’ They’ll reply ‘Buy bread’. By age three, they might be able to tell a simple ‘made-up’ story based on experiences they’ve had, but they’ll probably leave out a lot 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 things the way you do.
At this age, your toddler might cry less than they used to when they can’t do something or feel frustrated. That’s because your child can use their words to explain the problem and ask for help.
Play and language development
Your child will be able to play and talk by age three. For example, they might give voices to the toys they’re playing with. They’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. They’ll also talk to themselves and might use a very loud or soft voice when speaking.
Growing up in a bilingual or multilingual family doesn’t affect how early or quickly children learn to use language. Sometimes multilingual or bilingual children mix their languages for a while, but this stops once they understand that they’re using more than one language.
When to get help for language development
If you notice any of the following signs in your child, or you’re worried about your child’s language development, it’s a very good idea to see your child and family health nurse, GP or paediatrician.
- isn’t using words to communicate
- is often hard to understand when they’re talking to you, family or friends
- has stopped using a language skill they once had.
Your health professional might refer you to a speech pathologist.
Children learn new skills over time and at different ages. Most children develop skills in the same order, and each new skill they learn builds on the last. Small differences in when children develop skills are usually nothing to worry about.