Speech and language development - what to expect 3 - 5 years

Age 3-5: what to expect

At this stage children:

  • can use sentences with a developing grammar
  • are using a fuller range of speech sounds and their speech is becoming clearer. however, the speech sound system and clarity is still developing at this stage.
  • can take part in a conversation with  adults or other children
  • can show good conversational understanding
  • can show an understanding of concepts such as size, colour and position
  • will take part in a sequence of pretend play and will make use of language as a commentary to this
  • are beginning to use language in different ways eg to relate past events as well as to comment, name or ask questions in relation to the here and now
  • will react to other people’s facial expressions and feelings

3-5 years: indicators for concern

  • lack of eye contact
  • extreme distractibility
  • dysfluency (stammer)
  • unable to follow instructions and respond appropriately within a simple conversation
  • behaviour difficulties
  • difficulty with understanding social clues
  • unable to put words into sentences
  • lack of flexibility, changes of routine are found to be a challenge
  • play is repetitive or lacks  imagination
  • speech is frequently difficult to understand, even to close family. (See NHS Lothian speech and language therapy referral guidelines for speech sounds to expect at this stage).
  • messy eating and poor control of mouth, lips and tongue when eating
  • clumsy, lack of coordination for physical movements and or speech
  • poor social skills with peers within play. Difficulty initiating or sustaining an interaction with peers or an adult
  • hoarse voice or abnormal voice quality

Your local speech and language therapy department can also provide support and advice. There is an open referral system. Referrals are accepted from the family and anyone working with the child. Parental permission for referral is always required. Local speech and language therapy teams can also offer training in order to share skills and knowledge relating to communication development; and supporting children with speech, language and communication needs.

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    NHS Lothian: Additional support for learning website

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    Words together

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