Return to Child Speech-Language Milestones – the Stages of Development

Speech and Language Developmental Milestones 36 – 48 months


Milestones 36 – 48 months

This is a continuation of the speech and language developmental milestones resource from 36 to 48 months (3 to 4 years).

The rate at which children reach their speech and language development milestones can vary depending on the child and the environment that surrounds them. Some children will develop certain speech and language skills quicker than others. However, despite a bit of difference between children, we expect most children to develop certain skills within a certain time-frame. You will see that many skills mentioned in the content below may be repeated over several age groups as children are all different and some children take longer to develop these abilities. This information sheet is just a general guideline, and many experts vary considerably on what they believe to be the normal stages of development.
To try and make this information easier to read we have created a made-up child called Bill. Bill was lucky, he had a childhood free of any illness or accidents and he had pro-active parents who played with him and gave him lots of quality one-to-one attention.


Speech and Auditory Awareness Milestones

36 – 48 months

Over this period Bill’s sound inventory really starts to be completed and he produces most consonant sounds correctly. He is now able to use words with many different sounds – m n p b t d w ng k g h f s y with most other sounds and clusters developing over this year – j l r sh ch z v sp st sk sl sm sn sw tr gr br pr cr fl bl pl gl. He is now using around 1000 words and his speech is 90% understandable. His speech now includes words with final consonants (e.g., hat, duck), but he may still occasionally delete weak syllables, e.g., “efant” for elephant. There will be occasional repeats or hesitations as in “ma-ma-ma-mom” and this is common amongst many children. Bill’s parents initially worry he may be acquiring a stammer, but many children experience a period of dysfluency and this sometimes happens because the demands to use language are greater than the capabilities to produce it. Most children overcome a dysfluent period and it is best to just keep an eye on the problem and not make an issue of it, but remembering to always give your child plenty of time to speak. Bill’s listening skills are also improving and he should be able to listen and attend to a story for 15 minutes. His auditory memory also increases and he can store up to 4 items by 48 months.


Expressive Language and Semantics (content) Milestones

36 – 48 months

Bill is now easily using 4 – 5 word sentences and using words to relate observations, ideas and relationships. His vocabulary is expanding to 900 words by age 4 and he is holding conversations using many correct grammatical structures (plurals, possession, pronouns, prepositions and adjectives). Bill has also starting using “when” and “how” in questions, as well as “so” and “because”. He is able to describe things more accurately and can tell you what certain objects are used for. Bill is also be able to answer simple problem solving questions.


Social use of Language (use and Pragmatics) Milestones

36 – 48 months

Bill can now hold centre stage and enjoys speaking without avoidance or embarrassment as his confidence and self esteem increase. He uses language as a complex tool, initiating, taking turns in conversation and maintaining topic, but can also easily adapt and change topic. Bill is also using language for many different reasons – bargaining, obtaining information, expressing needs etc. Bill is also starting to understand other peoples feelings and needs (empathy) and can respond appropriately. His play skills are also developing, enjoying role play. He is currently in a period of play development referred to as symbolic play and is creating a world of pretend and make-believe play. During this period children start to use more imagination and start to identify one object as another, e.g. a brush becomes a boat. This play later develops into imitation and elaborate sequences where the child may take on the role of a doctor or a teacher. The child starts to become less self focused and have more of an awareness outside themselves. By age four the child starts to show an interest in games that have rules and they will move away from parallel play to play that involves more social interaction. These rules are very much based around sensori-motor aspects of play which provide structure and repetition.


Receptive Language (comprehension, perceiving and understanding) and Cognition Milestones

36 – 48 months

Bill’s comprehension is now at a 3-4 word level, he can process complex sentence structures and understands 1500 – 2000 words. As he reaches 4-years old he can follow a command with 3 directions, can track a 6 word sentence and can retell a short story. Bill is making inferences and can understand the consequences of his and other people’s actions. His understanding of concepts and how his world works becomes more developed over his 4th year of life he will learn to understand many more abstract concepts:

Concepts such as quality / texture / quantity / empty / full / same / different.

Locational prepositions – next to

Comparatives – I am taller than you

Understands – “odd one out”

Concepts of “one,” “many,” “big,” “little,” “same,” “different,” “empty,” “full,” “clean,” “dirty,” etc. Concepts of time such as “night” and “day”.

Understands difference in past / present and future

Answers “what is missing questions” and identifies objects missing from a scene

Understands day / morning / afternoon / night

Makes comparisons of speed and weight

Attempts to answer problem solving questions – “what if”

Bill can now sequence a 3-piece picture story, he will stay with one activity for eight or nine minutes and his concentration and attention skills have developed so he can sit and listen to a 15 minute story.


Morphology and Syntax (structure) Milestones

36 – 48 months

Bill’s understanding of more complex language is growing rapidly and is still ahead of his expressive language. He follows prepositional phrases such as “put the block under the chair” and follows two-part commands, e.g.,”put the doll in the bed.” He understands and uses plurals, e.g., “blocks,” “dogs” , pronouns, e.g., “I, me, you, he, she, it, him, her”, and possessives, e.g., “girl’s”. In fact Bill holds conversations using many correct grammatical structures (plurals, possession, pronouns, prepositions, adjectives). Bill’s sentence length is increasing (averaging three to five word sentences) and he is able to retell a story or relate an idea to someone using short simple sentences. He continues to ask lots of questions (e.g. “What + doing?”, “Where?”, “Who?”, “When?”, “How many?”, “How?”, “How much?”) and is using “because” and “so” to join two sentences.

As he nears his 4th birthday Bill is using:

Pronouns – “his / her / their”

Irregular past tense

Possessives – “mummy’s hat”

Articles – “a book / the book”

Regular past tense (-ed – jumped)

He is more consistently using irregular and regular plurals

Negatives and some modals – “shouldn’t / won’t / can’t”


Gross and Fine Motor Skills Milestones

36 – 48 months

As Bill enters his 4th year he is growing in confidence and what he can do with his body. He is good at climbing ladders and trees and will try and climb up and over most things. His balance is also improving and Bill can stand on one leg for 5 seconds and hop on the same leg. Bill is starting to take an interest in balls, although he does not understand any sporting rules, he throws and catches a ball and makes a good attempt at kicking a football. His fine motor skills are also developing, he can draw simple objects a body with head, trunk, legs, arms and fingers. Bill can thread beads and button his shirt, but still has difficulty tying his laces. He washes and dries his hands before dinner.


Go to our Milestones Resources section for Downloadable facts-sheets about child speech and language development milestones. Click Here


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