In the early stages of language development, children goes through milestones such as

  • Speech blurbs,
  • Single words,
  • double words,
  • Use of verbs
  • full sentence etc. [I may be limited in my knowledge so correct me if so]

Now by the age of 2.5 to 3 (and in case of my kid it is at 3.5 years) children do express themselves reasonably well.

However, there are many kids at four which are very clear in their expressions just like any other adult and are also comfortable expressing ideas at a bit more complex and abstract levels; where as in my kid (also observed in some kids) manage to speak only actionable (often not very fluent) or in other words their ideas are restricted.

My question is: what are the milestones of language (and if you consider it as cognitive) development of children after the are able to get basic speech? How do they evolve from there both in developing their languages and their understanding of details of the world?

PLEASE NOTE: i don't know if cognition and language are two independent things. I, as a parent, only want to be knowledgeable about a typical growth path that children follow (or are expected to follow) after basic speech is achieved.

  • I think you are mixing terms a little bit. Do you want to measure the understanding of idiomatic constructs and subtle meanings in speech or just having children apply them?
    – Karlson
    Commented Mar 3, 2012 at 5:33
  • I'm curious of the reasearch that you've done yourself and how you felt about it.
    – monsto
    Commented Mar 4, 2012 at 21:37

2 Answers 2


Well, first off - my apologies if self answers are considered bad. Most of my study earlier stopped by 2-3 years and if at all there is, it is very limited exploration [ See wiki, nidcd, nncc ]

More sources i got later: rising children, child development. Again, i am really not sure of other sources.

Basically, here is how i have gathered stuff, and there is some which is partly added i have observed around in my and other kids. I may be completely wrong - nevertheless, here it is!

1. Understanding actions:

  • from basic instructions - "give me water, put that shoes" etc. to more complex instructions like, find the largest ball from there and put it in most fitting basket here.

  • The same way, child grows to understand puzzle solving, understanding the relationship on different scores and levels and then they understand the notion of competitive winning.

  • broadly they develop simple to complex understanding of things - for example as early as 1 year my kid learnt that pressing the specific key will switch on light. From there, they understand more complex phenomena around her/his world and establish cause and effect relationship. for example, operating power on-off button to switching channels in TV and then knowing which channel will get their favorite channels is a simple to complex learning

2. Language development

  • Simple to complex sentences. Use adjectives. Understand distinction between noun and verb and realizes that verbs are related to actions.

  • understand opposites, relations like - big/bigger/biggest.

  • understand and answers questions on - WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHICH etc.

  • Ability to do longer conversation - like replying on phone, reply of reply to lengthen it towards some motive,

  • answer an abstract questions:

3. Sense of time

  • in the beginning - they decipher day vs. night. Later distinguish other day parts.

  • Primary causality: Post this, they being to have basic understanding of what happend before or after.

  • Understand wall clock time.

  • Understand week days and notion of what days, month, year elapsed would really mean.

4. Visualization
[I am not sure of this - but this will be part of one of the other sections]

  • About 18 month+ kid can remember a scene setting scene before but not right in font of the eye.

  • Ability to draw and depict objects and scenes based on pictures, cartoons and other such imaginary sources rather than real world. For example, kids can identify and relate a tiger from a picture as well as a 3D model (toy) and a cartoon tiger as well as a real tiger in zoo.

  • Can express the entire scene - this is what all i saw in the garden and then from there - express complex phenomenon - this happend - then this happened and then etc.

5. Social Awareness

  • interaction with other kids, understand their actions and react to them.

  • play games for enjoyment sake initially which later evolve in relative comparison and competitive spirit.

  • develops, liking- disliking, develops basic trust by way of preferring someone by default, understanding of what will hurt or please others, learns to manipulate response for objectives (pleases someone to grab a chocolate).

  • internalize behavioral manners and code of conduct, understands seniority of people, learns to influence or persuade or bargain with people.

6. Math and logical reasoning
I feel this is very very tightly governed by what is explicitly taught in school. Even if there is a capability in children to learn them on their own - but schools syllabus is more or less primarily driving them then their natural discovery. Thoguh it is a great surprise to me how it works. the play school of my kid tried to teach him counting. Most kid would do that by end of 2 - my kid was not able to grab that concept till 2 & half - but suddenly one fine day he just begun to count! So i don't really know how that works.

Same applies to reading and writing i guess.

  • 1
    +1: Best answer so far, but could use more citations.
    – deworde
    Commented Mar 9, 2012 at 18:33
  • 1
    Nothing wrong with answering your own question! I agree with deworde that your answer could use more citations, but it seems to cover a good amount of relevant information. Please consider viewing your answer as a "work-in-progress", and updating as you find out more (preferably citing your sources of information). Thanks!
    – user420
    Commented Mar 9, 2012 at 20:27

Both speech development and cognition are very much on an individualized scale. First of all, if you are very worried ask the pediatrician. Second, to get to your question. Some kids are better 'reports' than others, meaning some kids can tell you all about their day while others don't, sometimes this has simply to do with interest. You can try asking questions while reading books to encourage them to practice higher order (age appropriate) thinking. In terms of what is 'normal' or what the milestones of development are I have always avoided the literature because all the studies and advice are different and it just sends me into a tizzy. So, anecdotally, each of my 4 kids developed at different rate, ranging from my first one expressing herself in complete sentences at 2, to using singly words until 3.5. I am happy to report all of them developed and express themselves quite well (sometime too often:)). Children you see that are using idioms, adjectives, and multi-sentence responses are advanced at that age, as far as I know and have seen.
If you encourage speaking, use the speech you want when speaking to your child, ask questions and then let your child answer and then you answer more completely your child will learn at his own rate and right on time.

  • 1
    Although you provide some data points from your own experience, I am voting -1 for not answering the question. The asker specifically asks what are the milestones of language after basic speech, and How do they evolve from there? I think you often provide valuable insights, but you're also often not really answering, which is important here on the Stack Exchange network (See Why are some answers removed? and How to answer). Commented Mar 6, 2012 at 18:59
  • 1
    Agree with Torben. "In terms of what is 'normal' or what the milestones of development are I have always avoided the literature because all the studies and advice are different and it just sends me into a tizzy."This isn't really appropriate for the user in this case, who's clearly more comfortable with studies and milestones and is asking for them.
    – deworde
    Commented Mar 9, 2012 at 18:30

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