Happy Learners - Expressive Language Milestones

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Expressive Language Milestones

All children develop at different rates and so reaching milestones slower or faster than peers does not necessarily mean that there is a concern. Differences of up to 12 months are very normal. However, it can help to identify areas where a child may warrant some additional support particularly when more than 18 months off a chronological milestone. Social factors play a big role in the development of language skills and those children exposed to a greater range of language and vocabulary will often develop faster.



Development of Expressive Language Pre-school (1-5)

Expressive Language

1 Year

Protowords are used like 'da-da' for daddy

2 Years

2 word phrases like 'where daddy'

3 Years

Simple sentences of 3 - 5 words like 'where's my daddy gone?'

4 Years

Can use sentences with 5 words. Very inquisitive - asking lots of questions. 'Daddy, what is this for?'

5 Years

Able to sustain a narrative about self and family. Can retell simple stories. Using different tenses.


Expressive Vocabulary

1 Year

1-3 words

2 Years

About 150 words

3 Years

500 - 1000 words

4 Years

1000-1500 words

5 Years

1500+ words



Expressive Language Development in Primary Schools (5-12)

5 - 10 Years

During this period a child will typically learn about 10 - 15 words each day.

Children begin to understand and use in their speech and writing abstract vocabulary such as ‘compassion’, ‘relevance’, and ‘democracy’.

Children begin to understand and use non-literal language. They use it particularly for humorous effect as they develop from simply repeating jokes to increasingly making contextual jokes.

Children become more aware of the impact of what they say on others. Social lying reveals their understanding of the social perspective of others. They increasingly moderate what they say depending on the audience and context.

Children tend to develop an extensive vocabulary in a specific area of personal interest, hobby or sport.


10 – 12 Years

By now children will usually have the ability to have sustained conversations.

They have developed a wide vocabulary related to the primary school curriculum and become more fluent in expressing sentences using technical subject-based language.

Children use persuasive language in negotiations.

Children are increasingly profficient at understanding that words can convey a number of different meanings and begin to use this for comic effect; particularly in the form of sarcasm.

Children begin to use words that represent their understanding of their use of language and thinking. E.g. 'I have reached this conclusion because'. They also demonstrate their understanding of the difference between fact and opinion.


12 plus

By 12 most children will understand and use idioms in their speech such as 'I'm going to hit my target' .

Many children will be profficient in their use of slang words particularly in social talk with peers.

They have a much clearer understanding of the needs of audience and can readily adapt both spoken and written language to the context. They understand how to elaborate and substantiate a point to build a persuasive argument in negotiations and discussions.

During secondary school their understanding and use of curriculum specific vocabulary will continue to develop.



You may also find the following pages useful:

Attention Milestones

Receptive Language Milestones

Vocabulary Development