Preschool Speech and Language

Preschool Speech and Language“Speech” refers to saying a variety of sounds clearly while “language” refers to expressing oneself with words and gestures, and understanding words and sentences. A speech and/or language delay occurs when a child doesn’t meet the typical developmental milestones for their age (see below for milestones).

What causes a speech and language delay?

Most speech and language delays have unknown causes. There are some factors that contribute to early speech and language difficulties (e.g., family history, premature birth, low birth weight, intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, hearing loss, etc.), but many times, no obvious cause can be determined.

How can a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) help?

SLPs have training to thoroughly assess and treat your child’s verbal expression (i.e., vocabulary and early grammar use), understanding of language, and speech sound inventory (i.e., the specific sounds that your child is and is not producing).

Is there anything I can try myself?

Stimulating speech and language in preschoolers is done through play. There are a number of strategies that parents and caregivers can use, such as:

  • Modeling refers to restating the child’s comment and adding a few words, thereby making the comment just a little more mature. For example, if a child says, “bue ba”, you can model, “I want the blue ball.”
  • Expansion refers to adding information to a child’s comment, thereby modeling more advanced grammar and/or vocabulary. For example, if your child points to the kitchen cupboard and says, “wan acku!” you can expand on his comment and say, “I want an animal cracker!”
  • Self-Talk and Parallel Talk refer to talking about what you and your child are doing as you are doing it. For example, as you dress your child, you can include such comments as, “we have to get our socks out of the drawer. Here are the socks; they go on your feet. We need to pull them up! There, your socks are on!” Or, as a child plays with trucks, parallel talk can include comments such as, “You chose the red truck! Boy, you are driving it carefully on that ramp. Oops, it crashed!”
What speech and language skills should you expect?
By 6 months
  • Coos, laughs, babbles, has different cries for different needs
  • Looks at people who are talking, smiles; reacts to noises and music
By 12 months
  • Babbles vowels and simple consonants
  • Requests objects, refuses and comments with gestures and vocalizations
  • Imitates sounds
  • Understands up to 50 words, points to pictures in books and body parts on self; follows simple ‘in’ and ‘on’ directions
By 18 Months
  • Uses 50-100 words
  • Understands more words than he/she can say
  • Enjoys listening to simple stories, songs and rhymes
By Age 2
  • Uses 200-300 words
  • Starting to use 2-word sentences (i.e., More juice), ask simple questions (i.e., What’s that?) and use rising intonation to mark questions
  • Uses social words “hi”, “bye”, “please” and protests by vocalizing “no”
  • Understands simple stories and songs; answers simple questions (i.e., Who? What? Where?)
  • Speech is 50% intelligible; uses many consonant sounds at the beginning of words ‘p, b, h, n, m, d, w’
By Age 3
  • Uses 3-word sentences; participates in short conversations; vocabulary consists of 1,000 words; uses pronouns my, mine, you, she, he, we
  • Follows two step directions; points to objects that are described (i.e., what do you wear on your feet?); understands simple concepts (i.e., big/little, up/down)
  • Speech is 75% intelligible; emerging or acquired sounds include ‘k, g, t, ng, f, y’; clearly marks sounds at the ends of words (i.e., “hat” vs. “ha”)
  • Listens to story books for longer periods of time
By Age 4
  • Average sentence length is 4 words; vocabulary consists of 1600 words
  • Uses/understands “when” and “how” questions
  • Uses/understands vocabulary for size (i.e., big), shape (i.e., circle) and location (i.e., over, under, behind)
  • Uses “and”, “because” and wh-words to make longer sentences
  • Recognizes and produces rhymes; starts to pay attention to letters in print
  • Generally speaks clearly so people understand; says most sounds correctly except ‘r, l, th, s, ch, sh’; starting to produce consonant clusters (i.e., stop, clown)
By Age 5
  • Vocabulary consists of 2200-2500 words
  • Begins to know letter names and sounds as well as numbers and counting
  • Uses “when”, “so”, “if” to make sentences longer and more complex; adds descriptive details to sentences
  • Basic sentence forms acquired; uses regular past tense (i.e., he walked) and third person (i.e., he walks); uses pronouns herself, himself, yourselves
  • Recognizes and writes own name as well as some letters
  • Speech is 100% intelligible; although errors on ‘s, r, l, th’ may persist