Tips for developing language at 3 years

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Information and tips to help parents and caregivers develop their child’s language at 3 years of age.

Key points

  • All toddlers will develop speech and language skills at different times, but there are things you can do to encourage language development.
  • By 3 years of age, a child will usually have a vocabulary of 900-1,000 words and may start speaking in 2- to 3-word sentences.
  • Help to encourage language development by building upon what they say, helping to build their vocabulary, using plural words, asking 'Wh' questions, using commands, and storytelling.

There are several things you can do to help encourage language development in your toddler. The following recommendations can be used throughout your daily interactions with your child.

Model 2- to 3-word sentences

By the age of 3, your child will typically have a vocabulary of around 900 to 1000 words. They may use sentences with 2 to 3 words, (e.g. "I want more").

When speaking to your child, use clear, simple language that is easy to imitate. When your child speaks to you, imitate what they say as a way of showing them you understand them and then build on it. For example, if your child says “Want more milk” you can respond by saying "You want more milk. I’ll pour some milk in your cup."

Books with simple phrases can be read many times until the child can say part or all the words on each page. For example:

  • Mom: Where’s Spot? … Spot is in the box.
  • Mom: Where’s Spot?
  • Child: In the box!

Building vocabulary (numbers, colours, names)

There are many different activities you can do with your child to help expand their vocabulary

Practice counting. Count toes and fingers. Count steps as you go down them.

Cut out pictures from magazines or and make a scrapbook of familiar things (food, toys, people). Help your child glue the pictures into the scrapbook. Practice naming the pictures, using gestures and speech to show how you use the items.

Create your own photo album while naming and describing people (Grandpa is fishing, Mommy is on the beach).

Singing is a great way to develop words and sentences – nursery rhymes and songs such as ‘the Itsy-bitsy spider’ and ‘Twinkle twinkle little star’ ‘Row your boat.

Let your child fill in the blank while singing:

  • Dad: Mary had a ….(pause)
  • Child: Little lamb, little lamb.

Introduce adjectives: furry bunny, green peas, fast car and play 'I spy'.

Using plurals

Read books that contain multiple examples of plural nouns, such as Goldilocks and the Three Bears, beds, bowls, chairs etc.

Talk about the pictures and count the objects in the pictures.

Stress the 'S' sound at the end of words or when they come up in conversation.

Count body parts: one hand, two hands or sing 'Head and Shoulders'.

Asking 'Wh' questions

Use everyday activities to model 'Wh' questions:

  • Who is at the door?
  • What goes in the basket?

When reading books, ask about the pictures:

  • Where’s the doggy? (searching through a flipbook)
  • Who’s in the car? (while playing with a toy car and small dolls)
  • What is her name?

Following 2 and 3 step commands

Use commands with simple words, such as "Get a spoon".

Break longer commands into smaller parts, for example, "Put on your socks" or "Put on your running shoes".

Have your child repeat the command and then do it to verify they understood you.

Use numbering to preface each step, for example, "First find your doll, then put it in the bin".

Playing games such as Simon Says, baking and doing crafts are good opportunities to practice following simple instructions.


Expand on social communication and storytelling skills by "acting out" typical scenarios (e.g., cooking food, going to sleep, or going to the doctor) with a dollhouse and its props. Do the same type of role-playing activity when playing dress-up. Repeat what your child has said, even if you do not understand it completely. This shows that what they say is important to you.

Last updated: November 3rd 2020