When should I be concerned about my child’s speech and language skills?


We usually see a child for the first time after a parent, teacher or health professional has referred them for a speech assessment or a speech and language assessment. This is generally after observing what they believe to be a delay or a difficulty of some kind in the child’s communication skills.

But when I ask parents or carers what their main concerns are around their child’s communication abilities, there is often some confusion about what speech and language actually are. I explain the difference between these two words in more detail here.

When it comes to speech and language development, knowing what’s in the “normal” range, and what’s not, can help you gauge if your child is on track or if there is cause for concern.

There are benchmarks that can guide us when considering whether a child’s speech and language are developing typically.

Many babies can happily babble and make sounds like “mum” or “dada” from about 7 months. First words are typically said around a child’s first birthday and most children have a vocabulary of around 50 words by their second birthday. By age 2 to 3 years, a typical child starts understanding a lot more language than they can express.

Speech skills – ages and stages

Based on research by McLeod, S. & Crowe, K. (2018), the average age that children learn to pronounce English consonants correctly is:

2-3 years:

h, y, w, ng, m, n, p, b, t, d, k, g, and f

4 years:

l, sh, ch, j, s, z, and v

5 years:


5-6 years:


Language skills – ages and stages

Speech Pathology Australia (SPA) have these downloadable communication milestones sheets that outline the talking and understanding milestones for children aged 1-5 years. The following is a summary of these milestones showing the ages children should be demonstrating language skills by:

12 months:

  • understand about 10 words
  • respond to their name
  • make eye contact
  • start to use sounds and gestures
    say a few words

18 months

  • understand up to 50 words
  • point to familiar objects when named
  • say 6 to 20 single words

2 years:

  • follow simple two-part instructions
  • say more than 50 single words
  • put two words together to form small phrases

3 years:

  • understand simple wh-questions
  • say four to five words in a sentence
  • use a variety of words for names, actions, locations and descriptions

4 years

  • answer most questions about everyday tasks
  • use words such as ‘and’ ‘but’ and ‘because’ to make longer sentences
  • describe recent events such as morning routines

5 years

  • follow three-part instructions
  • understand time-related words (e.g., ‘before’, ‘after’, ‘now’ and ‘later’)
  • use well-formed sentences to be understood by most people
  • take turns in increasingly longer conversations
  • tell simple, short stories with a beginning, middle and end

A child with language difficulties may have a hard time understanding the meaning of what’s being said (receptive language issues). Or they may have trouble communicating their own thoughts (expressive language issues).

Of course, speech and language difficulties can look different for different children. A child might have trouble putting words together to express themselves clearly or they can have trouble understanding what’s being said to them.

When it comes to my child’s communication skills, what should I be concerned with?

  • If familiar/unfamiliar listeners have difficulty understanding what your child is saying
  • If your child says the same words differently each time they say them
  • If your child has difficulty putting words together to form simple sentences
  • If your child has difficulty following simple instructions

How can speech therapy help?

If your child is having difficulty with their speech or language, a speech therapist will first identify if a problem does exist. If your child is experiencing communication difficulties or delays, the therapist will work closely with you and your child to improve their speech and language skills and show you what you can do at home to help your child.

Treatment options can be different for each child, so seeking support early and getting the right diagnosis is key.

If you live in the Limestone Coast region and feel you or your child could use some extra support in this area, our friendly and experienced speech therapists can get on a call with you to discuss treatment options.

To book a time to chat with one of our friendly therapists, simply click the button below.


Bianca Vanstone

Bianca Vanstone is the principal speech pathologist and founder of Limestone Speech, a clinic providing speech pathology services and support for school-aged children and their families living in the Limestone Coast region, South Australia. Prior to establishing her own private practice in 2014, Bianca worked in various paediatric speech pathology roles both in the United States and throughout Australia. Bianca has two small children of her own and is passionate about working with kids with complex development issues, particularly those with a diagnosis on the autism spectrum.


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Simple strategies you can use in everyday interactions with your child to assist their speech and language development. 

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