3 year old understands but not talking

3 year old not talking but understands

If you have a 3-year-old who cannot talk but can understand whatever you say or communicate, you might be concerned and your apprehension is valid. However, you don’t need to worry much because this is what is referred to as speech delay. Your child just has a different timetable as compared to other children. Your 3 -year-old will eventually catch up.

Another reason why your 3-year-old is not talking but understands whatever you say is a language disorder. It is very important to get a professional diagnosis before making an attempt to remedy this issue.

There are many reasons why your child might not be able to talk after reaching this age bracket. Continue reading to explore the reasons for your 3-year-old not being able to talk.

Here are some of the reasons why your 3-year-old is not talking but understands whatever you are trying to communicate.

Speech or language delay

Speech delay is when a child has difficulty or is not developing speech and language at an expected rate. It is a common developmental problem among children.

Children with this condition can only say a few words. He or she might use words and phrases to express ideas but can be difficult to understand for adults.  Some conditions of speech delays are termed as simple since they are temporary.

They may resolve on their own or with a little help from the child’s family and friends. It is very essential to encourage your child to talk with you or other people with gestures and sounds. Adults are also encouraged to spend lots of time playing and reading to their toddlers or children.

Late talker

A late talker is a toddler who has a limited spoken vocabulary for his or her age. They however are okay when it comes to other areas such as motor skills, thinking ability, and social skills. The main issue late talkers have is that they have problems with spoken and expressive language.

They are very hard to figure out. Being interactive with late talkers can help them be more expressive and enable them to use more words and phrases when they speak or try to communicate with their parents, friends, and family.

Below are some of the reasons why your 3-year-old cannot talk but can understand you.

Problems with the mouth

Your 3-year-old might understand you but cannot talk because he or she has problems with the mouth. A speech delay in your 3-year-old can indicate a problem with the mouth, tongue, or palate.

With the condition of ankyloglossia (tongue-tie), the tongue is connected to the floor of the child’s mouth making it difficult for him or her to create certain sounds with alphabets like; L, D, S, R, S, T, Z, and Tongue-tie can also make it difficult for infants to breastfeed.

Loss of hearing

If your child cannot hear well or hears distorted speech, this can also be another cause as to why your child is likely to understand you but cannot communicate with you. Loss of hearing makes your child have difficulty in forming words.

A sign of hearing loss in your child is that your child does not recognize a person or object when they are given a name. The child can only acknowledge the person or object when gestures are used.

Autism spectrum disorder

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or autism is a term that is used to describe neurodevelopmental conditions or used to relate to brain development. Autism impacts how the individual perceives and socializes with other people resulting in problems in communication (usually speech-wise) and social interaction.

Speech and language problems are often related to autism spectrum disorder. 

Here are other signs of ASD that indicate speech delay;

  • Speech and language regression
  • impaired social interaction
  • impaired verbal and non-verbal communication
  • phrases being repeated instead of creating new phrases (also known as echolalia)

Intellectual disabilities 

Another reason for your 3-year-old not being able to talk can be as a result of intellectual disability. Your child may not be unable to speak due to a cognitive issue but rather due to an inability to put words together. Thus, speech can be delayed due to an intellectual disability.


Apraxia is a speech disorder that prevents you from producing speech. People suffering from this disorder have a neurological deficit.

The brain finds difficulty in coordinating the jaw, lips, and tongue to create speech. Children who have apraxia find it hard to make syllables, sounds, and words. It can be caused by trauma, illness, injury, genetic and degenerative disorders, and neurological damage.

How can I tell if my child understands me without talking?

You can be able to tell if your child understands you without talking. You realize when you give them a command they follow through or understand using visual cues. They also make facial expressions to gestures you make. 

The use of hand signals by your child is also another way to know if your child understands you. It is very common for children with speech delays to use hand gestures to communicate when they cannot talk.

How are speech delays diagnosed?

Language delays are diagnosed by a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP). SLPs check the speech and language skills of your child. A standardized test is carried out by the SLP. Also, milestones in speech and language development are looked out for by the Speech-Language Pathologist.

SLPs also check for;

  • Receptive language (what is understood by your child)
  • Expressive language (the things your child can say)
  • Sound development
  • Clarity of speech

Are there ways to help your 3-year-old talk?

There are ways to help your 3-year -old with this problem.

Speech therapy, parents, family, and friends can help the child get past his or her speech delay.

Here are some of the ways to treat speech delay;

Speaking slowly and clearly

When speaking to your child who cannot talk but can understand you, always make sure to talk at a slow pace. Do not rush your words and take your time when talking to a toddler. This gives them more time to hear the words you are using.

Read to them

A good way to get past speech delay is to read to your child often. Make sure to encourage them to join in. Engage them by asking them what they can see and what they think of what you just read.

Speech therapy

Speech therapy can also encourage speech development. A speech therapist will work hand in hand with your child to improve speech and language skills. The speech therapist will also give you tips as to what you can do at home to help your 3-year-old.

Early intervention services

Research suggests that speech and language delays at ages 2 and a half to 5 years can lead to difficulty with reading in elementary school. Speech delay can also lead to problems with behavior and socialization.

With the help of a doctor’s diagnosis, your 3-year-old may qualify for early intervention services before they begin school.

Do not put pressure on them

Parents should try not to get frustrated if their child cannot answer their questions or even engage with you in a little conversation. Keep talking to your child regardless and use a calm approach.


Michael Sarfo
Content Creator at Wapomu

Michael Sarfo is a graduate of the University of Ghana, Legon. He is a content creator for enochkabange.com and a writer for Wapomu

Chief Editor at Wapomu.com

MPSGH, MRPharmS, MPhil.

Isaiah Amoo is a practicing community pharmacist in good standing with the Pharmacy Council of Ghana who has meaningful experience in academia and industrial pharmacy. He is a member of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, England, UK and currently pursuing his overseas pharmacy assessment programme (MSc) at Aston University, UK. He had his MPhil degree in Pharmaceutical Chemistry at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. He has about 5 years’ experience as a community Pharmacist and has also taught in academic institutions like KNUST, Kumasi Technical University, Royal Ann College of Health, and G-Health Consult. He likes to spend time reading medical research articles and loves sharing his knowledge with others.

Post navigation

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

List of all health courses offered in Ghana

How To Establish Or Register A New Pharmacy In Ghana

Can I take iron preparations with malaria drugs?