Language for three-year-olds is taking off. They learn lots of new words and make major improvements in pronunciation. They communicate in simple sentences and are refining their use of grammar. Three-year-olds are also better able to listen to and understand conversations, stories, songs and poems. They are beginning to initiate conversations, want to talk about areas of personal interest, and need some prompting to relate a complete and coherent personal experience.
At 36 months, understands 1000 or more words. Acquires an average of 1500 to 2000 words during this year.
The average child has the capacity to acquire four to six words per day, given access to new words in his or her daily experiences.
Continues to learn words when adults name objects, and increases ability to infer word meanings from context. Many new words are also learned through new experiences and from hearing picture books read aloud.
Continues to increase their vocabularies for nouns (names of things, such as common objects and familiar people), pronouns, action words, descriptive words, quantifiers, location words, and question words. Also, has a major vocabulary increase in connecting words (e.g., and, because, but, if).
Other categories of vocabulary growth include number words, emotional state words (e.g., sad, happy, angry, mad, excited, frightened), common category names (e.g., toys, furniture, clothes, fruits, animals) and common family member names (e.g., mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, sister, brother).
Shows an increased ability to listen to and understand conversations, stories, songs and poems.
Follows multi-step directions involving familiar objects, actions and routines, including those that are sequential but not related (e.g., "Take your coats off and hang them in your cubbies and then go sit on the rug for story time." "Jason, take Katie's hand and go stand by the door." "Pick up these cylinder blocks, and then put the dolls back in their beds.").
Understands explanations when concrete objects and actions support the verbal explanation, and phenomena are directly observable (e.g., "When we mix colors, we get a new color. See what color you get when you mix yellow with blue.").
Perception of speech sounds that aren't used in native language continues to decrease. Exposure to a second or a third language helps children to continue to perceive a wider range of speech sounds, making learning a second language easier.
Identifies vocal changes when someone is reading and talking (e.g., When someone is reading a book, the child can tell if the person is reading the text of the book or talking about pictures in the book.).
From age three on, it is difficult to measure actual productive vocabulary, but the number of words that children understand is always larger than the number of words they actually use. As children understand more words, there will be changes in the nature of the words children use for speaking and writing.
Continues to over- and under-extend the meanings of words (e.g., a child calls a cow "horsie"), but to a lesser degree for fairly common items. For example, a child unfamiliar with a wheelbarrow may call it "wagon" given that both have a cavity, a handle and wheels.
Makes major improvements in pronunciation. While some children may continue to have some difficulty, most are easily understood by adults who are not familiar with them.
Communicates in simple, grammatical sentences, often using a series of simple sentences to relate ideas. Some children may talk in monologue, as if practicing language. In the first part of this year, children are forming question and negative sentence structure (e.g., "Why you aren't going?" rather than "Why aren't you going?")
Applies general past tense rule to irregular past tense verbs (e.g., "runned" for "ran," and "teached" for "taught"). Also, applies general plural rule to irregular nouns (e.g., "mouses" for "mice," and "tooths" for "teeth").
Begins to initiate the telling of personal experiences, but offers only the main events at first, leaving out a lot of contextual details necessary for a non-participant to understand the whole "story." For example, a child announces, "I got some shells." Teacher asks, "Did you get them at a store or did you find them on a beach?" Child says, "At the beach." Teacher asks, "So, you went to the beach and found some shells. Who took you?" Child says, "Sally." Teacher says, "Oh, Jeremiah's mom?" Child says, "Yes, she taked us there to swim."
Begins to initiate conversations. Uses "Guess what?" or "You know what?"
Typically does not interrupt current speaker, but has difficulty in waiting for a turn in a group conversation. Wants to speak after each speaker regardless.
Tends to use turn to relate information of personal interest regardless of topic established by peers or adults.
May have trouble talking with someone on the phone because the topics of questions asked are often not related to the "here and now."