Between the age of 3 and 4, your child will be busy perfecting his/her already acquired speech and language skills: receptive and expressive vocabulary, intelligibility, correct use of grammatical markers and syntax. This stage is marked by rapid cognitive development, which in addition to the evolving language skills, may often result in rapid speech rate, frequent repetitions (today I want, um, today I want…) and even facial grimaces when talking… so do not be alarmed if your child resembles Eminem, speaking at a rate of 10 words per second. By now your child is able to USE language creatively, conveying ideas, thoughts and emotions, participating in conversation, all the while forming novel sentences. This creative USE of language is what stands out most in terms of one’s communication development between ages 3 and 4, and hence the acronym for this stage is USE.
U – Understands. Your child understands pretty much everything that you say, as his/her receptive vocabulary should be at least 1,200-2,000 words. Understanding extends beyond words, as you can expect your smart cookie to grasp the concept of past and future tense (e.g., yesterday and tomorrow), opposites (big/little, empty/full, open/closed, in/on, etc.), and object function (e.g., cup is for drinking, pencil for writing/drawing). Also, following 3+ step commands should be easy business.
S – Sentences. By now, your little scholar is using at least 4-5 word sentences, which consist mainly of nouns and verbs. While some errors may persist, sentence grammar should see some major improvements. These improvements in grammar typically include:
– appropriate use of is, are, and am in sentences
– frequent use of contractions, irregular plurals, future tense verbs, conjunctions
– consistent use of regular plurals, possessives, and simple past tense verbs
– an increased amount of compound and complex sentences
E – Expresses. With improved understanding comes the ability to better express oneself. By the time your child turns 4, he/she should exhibit an expressive vocabulary of at least 800-1,500 words. Speech sound errors are still common at this stage, and together with rapid speech rate and long sentences, may continue to affect intelligibility. Your child should be at least ~80% intelligible to unfamiliar listeners by now. Some higher order thinking skills begin to be verbalized at this stage, with children using language to produce simple verbal analogies, convey feelings and emotions, engage in long conversations, and tell two events in a chronological order.