The most demanding period for acquiring speech and language skills is the first 3 years of life, when the brain is developing and maturing. These skills are best developed in a world that is rich with sounds, sights, and consistent exposure to the speech and language of others.
There are certain critical periods for speech and language development in infants and young children. This is the period when the brain is best able to absorb language. If these periods are missed without exposure to language, it will lead to learning difficulties.
Milestones for speech and language development
When an infant learns that a cry will bring food, comfort, and company that is when the first signs of communication occurs. Newborn babies begin to recognize key sounds in their environment, such as the voice of their mother or primary caretaker. Babies begin to sort out the speech sounds that compose the words of their language as they progress in growth. Most babies recognize the basic sounds of their native language by 6 months of age.
The development of speech and language skills in children differs. They follow a natural advancement or timetable for mastering the skills of language. There are certain milestones which help doctors and professionals determine if a child is on track or if the child may need extra help. Sometimes a delay may be caused by hearing loss, while other times it may be due to a speech or language disorder.
How to nurture your baby’s language development?
- Talk, talk, talk.
- Read, read, read.
- Enjoy music together.
- Tell stories.
- Follow your child's lead.
- Never criticize your child's articulation or speech patterns.
- Use television and computers sparingly.
- Treat ear infections thoroughly.
Language development varies considerably between children, even within the same family. However, they tend to follow a natural progression for mastering the skills of language and there are certain ‘milestones’ that can be identified as a rough guide to normal development.
Children develop their speech at an individual rate but there are certain milestones to be aware of.
Development of speech over time
Babies need to learn how language sounds before being able to learn how to speak.
Although children improve at their own rate, there are some general patterns:
- From 1-3 months of age, babies cry and coo.
- At 4 to 6 months of age, babies sigh, grunt, gurgle, squeal, laugh and make different crying sounds.
- Between 6-9 months, babies babble in syllables and start imitating tones and speech sounds.
- Between 12 months, a baby’s first words usually appear, and by 18 months to 2 years’ children use around 50 words.
- Between 2-3 years, sentences extend to 4 and 5 words. Children can recognize and identify almost all common objects and pictures.
- Between 3-5 years, conversations become longer, and more abstract and complex.
- By the time a child turns 5, they usually have a 2,500-word vocabulary and talk in complete, grammatically correct sentences. They ask a lot of ‘why?’, ‘what?’ and ‘who?’ questions.
How can parents help?
- making faces and noises and talking about your activities from the day they’re born
- playing interactive games like peek-a-boo and singing nursery rhymes
- looking at books from an early age – you don’t have to read the words, just talk about what you can see
- talking slowly and clearly and using short, simple sentences.
- avoiding testing, such as asking ‘What’s this?’, as children learn better without pressure
- not criticizing wrong words and instead saying the word properly – for example, if your baby points to a dog and says ‘do!’ say: ‘Yes, it’s a dog
- letting your child lead the conversation and help them expand on their thoughts
- giving your child lots of opportunities to talk, with plenty of time to answer your questions
Who is a late talker?
A “Late Talker” is a toddler (between 18-30 months) who has good understanding of language, typically developing play skills, motor skills, thinking skills, and social skills, but has a limited spoken vocabulary for his or her age.
When to seek medical help?
By 12 months, your child is not trying to communicate with you (using sounds, gestures and/or words), particularly when needing help or wanting something
By 2 years, your child has not started combining words.
If your child hasn't mastered most of the speech and language development milestones for his or her age or you're concerned about any aspect of your child's development seek help immediately. Speech delays occur for many reasons, including hearing loss and developmental disorders. Depending on the circumstances, your child's doctor might refer your child to a hearing specialist or a speech-language pathologist.
In the meantime, talk to your child about what you're doing and where you're going. Sing songs and read together. Teach your child to imitate actions, such as clapping, and to say animal sounds. Practice counting. Show your child that you're pleased when he or she speaks. Listen to your child's sounds and repeat them back to him or her. These steps can encourage your child's speech and language development.
Encouraging your toddler to talk
Talk to your toddler as much as possible as you go about your daily routine and when you are out and about. The more you talk to your toddler, the newer words she'll learn, and the better she'll get at talking.
Chat to your toddler as you change diapers, feed, or bathe her. But make sure you give give her time to respond with a smile or eye-to-eye contact. Use everyday activities to help your toddler to make connections between actions and objects and the words that represent them. Point out things you see when you're out and about.
Simplify your speech when you talk to your toddler. Use short sentences and emphasize key words. This will help your toddler to focus on the important information.
Try talking to your toddler from time to time in sentences that are about one word longer than the sentences she is using. So if your child uses two-word sentences, use lots of three-word and four-word sentences when talking back to her. For example, if your toddler says "a bird", you could say, "yes, a big bird."
You can increase your child's vocabulary by giving her choices, such as "Do you want an apple or a pear?". You could even show your child both an apple and a pear. This helps your toddler to store a picture of the word in her mind.
It will help your toddler to learn how to talk if you make time to sit in front of her and talk to her. You could even sit in front of her when you read a book, rather than have her on your lap, so she can watch you talking.
Look at books with your toddler regularly. Even if you don't follow the story as it unfolds, your toddler will learn by listening to you talk about the pictures.
So, mommies get going and do the talking.