Children Learning to Talk
The first three years of life is the most intensive period of speech and language development. Speech and language develop best with exposure to sounds, sights, and the speech and language of others. Some evidence suggests that there are "critical periods" for speech and language development in infants and young children, which means that the developing brain is best able to absorb a language, any language, during this period. Language absorption will be more difficult, and perhaps less efficient or effective, if these critical periods are allowed to pass without early exposure to a language.
The earliest attempts at communication occur during the first few days of life when an infant learns that a cry will bring food, comfort, and companionship. Newborns also quickly recognize important sounds in their environment, particularly the sound of a paren's voice. As they mature, infants are able to differentiate the speech sounds (phonemes) or building blocks that compose the words of their language. By six months of age, most children recognize the basic sounds of their native language.
As the physical speech mechanism (jaw, lips, and tongue) and voice mature, an infant is able to make controlled noises. In the first few months of life cooing (a quiet and repetitive vocalization) occurs. By six months, babies are usually babbling or producing repetitive syllables such as "ba, ba, ba" or "da, da, da." Babbling soon evolves into a type of nonsense speech that has the tone and cadence of human speech but does not contain real words. Most children can say say a few simple words by the end of their first year.
Most children can say eight to ten words by eighteen months and by age two, most are putting words together in sentences. During this period, children begin to connect words to objects, actions, and thoughts and engaging in representational or pretend play.
While children vary in their development of speech and language, there is a natural progression or "timetable" for mastery of these skills for each language and generally, simple skills need to be reached before the more complex skills can be learned. Milestone period guidelines help doctors and other health professionals determine when a child may need extra help to learn to speak or to use language.
By the end of 6 months a kid should be:
- Babbling with inflection
- Responding to own name
- Responding to sound by making sounds
- Babbling chains of consonants (usually sounds for m, b, d)
- Vocally expressing pleasure and displeasure
By the end of 18 months a kid should be able to:
- Point to an object or picture upon request
- Recognize the names of familiar people, objects and body parts
- Follow simple directions
- Say up to 20 words
By the end of 24 months a kid should be able to:
- Ask for common foods
- Use simple phrases
- Use pronouns, such as "mine"
- Use prepositions, such as "in" and "under"
- Ask one- to two-word questions
- Respond to two-part requests
- Say between 50 to 100 words
Concerns about speech and language development can be assessed by a speech-language pathologist, a health professional trained to evaluate and treat people who have speech, language, voice or swallowing disorders (including hearing impairment) that affect their ability to communicate. Speech-language pathologists evaluate children with special speech and language tests, including a hearing test. Depending upon the test results, the speech-language pathologist may suggest various activities to stimulate speech and language development. Such activities may include reading to your child regularly, speaking in short sentences using simple words so that your child can successfully imitate you, or repeating what your child says with correct grammar or pronunciation. These activities allow the parent to demonstrate more accurate speech and language without actually "correcting" the child, which can eventually make speaking unpleasant for him or her. Group or individual therapy or evaluation by other health professionals such as an audiologist or a developmental psychologist may also strengthen the delay intervention.
Wanna read more? Check out our toddler milestones to get started.