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Typical Language Development of a 4-Year-Old

author image Linda Hinkle
Linda Hinkle has been a writer since 2004. She spent 29 years teaching mathematics in public high schools and now maintains a private tutoring practice. In addition to writing about education and parenting issues, she writes mathematics assessment and test prep items. Hinkle is a graduate of the University of Central Arkansas, where she earned a bachelor's degree in education.
Typical Language Development of a 4-Year-Old
A toddler is learning to read. Photo Credit: Todd Wright/Blend Images/Getty Images

Language development involves much more than just pronouncing words properly. According to the KidsHealth website, language is "the entire system of expressing and receiving information in a way that's meaningful." Language development in children is very individual, and each child progresses at her own rate. However, normal development follows a typical pattern.

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Your 4-year-old toddler should have a vocabulary of about 1,000 words, and he might use adjectives and adverbs frequently. Other typical language skills for this age include naming familiar objects in books, being able to repeat four digits when told slowly, and recognizing some simple words upon sight. Some 4-year-olds might still lisp and mispronounce some consonants.

Marking Milestones

Expect your 4-year-old to begin to follow three-step-commands, name four colors, count to four, and understand size relationships such as “big” and “little.” Toddlers typically enjoy word play and rhymes at this age, show mastery of some basic rules of grammar, and communicate in sentences of up to eight words. Your 4-year-old should speak clearly enough for strangers to understand and should show understanding of the concepts of “same” and “different.”

Stumbling Blocks

According to MedlinePlus, a service of the National Institutes of Health, it is normal for stuttering to occur in toddlers who are 3 to 4 years old, especially during times of stress or excitement. The stuttering occurs when thoughts and ideas come to mind faster than the toddler can express them. When this happens, give your child your complete attention when she is speaking and refrain from commenting on the stuttering. If grimacing, tics or severe self-consciousness accompany the stuttering, or if the stuttering lasts more than six months, consider having a speech pathologist evaluate your child.

Language Versus Speech

Understanding the differences in language and speech can help you better monitor your toddler's language development. Language is much broader than speech. Language includes the use of verbal, nonverbal and written communication to understand and be understood. Speech refers only to the verbal expression of language. Your child might have a language problem, such as difficulty following directions, but be able to articulate words properly. On the other hand, your child's speech might be hard to understand, but he might express thoughts and ideas by using words and phrases. Problems in speech and language development often overlap.

Recognizing Difficulties

Although children develop language skills at different rates, failure to meet certain milestones could indicate developmental delay. For a 4-year old, these include failure to use sentences of more than three words, not using the pronouns “you” and “me” in proper context, and inability to give first and last name. Other causes for concern include not using past tense and plurals appropriately when talking, failure to talk about daily activities and experiences, and difficulty comprehending two-part instructions, such as “Pick up your book and put it on the shelf.”

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