Component 2: Expressive Language

Learning Goal 2.a: Young children use increasingly complex vocabulary, grammar, and syntax to express thoughts and needs.


By 9 months, most children:

  • Experiment with making sounds
  • Engage in babbling (i.e., making consonant sounds followed by a vowel sound)
  • Say “mama” and “dada”
  • Use vocalizations, gestures, and facial expressions to communicate needs and wants and to express interest or dislike
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By 18 months, most children:

  • Communicate in a way that is understood by most familiar people (e.g., eye glances, gestures, sounds)
  • Produce some words and word-like sounds
  • Use eight to ten individual words to communicate wants, needs, interests, and dislikes
  • Combine words and gestures to communicate
  • Use short, telegraphic phrases (of one or two words) to communicate wants, needs, and thoughts
  • Use some pronouns
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By 24 months, most children:

  • Communicate basic needs in a way that is understood by many people outside the family or child care
  • Use “please” and “thank you”
  • Combine words with gestures and expressions (cues) to ensure adults understand their desires or requests (e.g., pointing to the door and saying, “Go outside.”)
  • Hold one-sided conversations with stuffed animals and dolls
  • Start to use the plural forms of nouns and verbs
  • Start to use the past tense of verbs
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By 36 months, most children:

  • Communicate basic ideas in a way that is understood by most people
  • Use a vocabulary of more than 100 words in their home language (words, signs, and/or alternative communication), including words for familiar people, objects, and animals and words that describe (adjectives)
  • Expand their vocabulary by asking others to name unfamiliar objects
  • Use two- and some three-syllable words
  • Combine words into simple three- to four-word sentences
  • Use simple adjectives in statements (“big,” “little,” “hard,” “soft”)
  • Use simple adverbs in statements (e.g., “That car goes very fast!”)
  • Use some plurals appropriately (e.g., distinguishing between “car” and “cars”)
  • Ask “who,” “what,” “why,” and “where” questions
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By 48 months, most children:

  • Communicate clearly enough to be understood by unfamiliar listeners but may make some pronunciation errors
  • Pronounce new, long, or unusual words if they have modeling and support
  • Use a variety of vocabulary words, including words to express emotions, to talk about position and direction, to describe relations between objects, to describe actions, and to express needs
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the meaning of words by describing the use of familiar objects, talking about categories of objects, using several words to explain the same idea (i.e., synonyms), and relating words to their opposites
  • Determine, with modeling and support, the meanings of unknown words by asking questions or using contextual clues, such as pictures that accompany text
  • Experiment with using new words in conversation
  • Use longer, more increasingly complex sentences, including complete four- to six-word sentences
  • Use, with modeling and support, more complex grammar and parts of speech, including common prepositions, regular plural nouns, correct subject- verb agreement, pronouns, and possessives
  • Continue to ask “who,” “what,” “why,” and “where” questions
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By 60 months, most children:

  • Communicate clearly enough to be understood by unfamiliar listeners, with few pronunciation errors
  • Expand their vocabulary with words of increasing specificity and variety
  • Demonstrate an increasing knowledge of the meanings of words and skill in determining the meaning of unknown words
  • Use increasingly complex, longer sentences, including sentences that combine two or three phrases
  • Use more complex grammar and parts of speech, including prepositions, regular and irregular plural forms of nouns, correct subject-verb agreement, pronouns, possessives, and regular and irregular past tense verbs
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