This page presents an overview of language and speech development in children from birth to 8 years.
Children's language develops through a series of identifiable stages as outlined in the language development charts below.
If your child is exposed to a rich language environment, this will be reflected in her speech development.
Not all children will follow the exact sequence below. This is presented so that you will know what to expect from your child as children vary in the speed with which they reach these milestones.
You should seek advice from your child's language and speech therapist if she seems to be significantly behind in her speech development.
Pre-linguistic Stage: 0 to 12 Months
The first stage of development in the process of children learning to use language is the pre-linguistic stage. Babies use this stage to learn how to communicate with others.
During the first stage of life, babies rapidly learn how to communicate with their carers, so that by the age of 12 months, most babies understand what is being said to them and are starting to communicate their needs by pointing or by showing their carer objects.
Language and Speech Development Chart: 0 to 12 Months
Recognises different tones of voices
Coos and gurgles when content
Cries to show hunger, tiredness and distress
Smiles in response to others' faces
Recognises carer's voice.
Babbles and coos
Babbles consist of short sounds e.g. 'da da, ma ma'
Laughs, chuckles and squeals
Cries to show distress
Begin to understand emotion in parent or carer's voice
Begin to enjoy music and rhymes accompanied by actions.
Begin to recognise own name
Imitate simple words
Pointing begins. This is often accompanied by a sound or the beginnings of a word. This demonstrates an increasing awareness that words are associated with people and objects
Babbling begins to reflect the intonation of speech
May understand simple, single words e.g. bye bye.
Babbling becomes more tuneful and inventive
Strings vowels and consonants together to make repetitive sounds
Use gestures to ask for things
Enjoy games e.g peek-a-boo
Understand more than they can say
Begin to respond to simple instructions e.g 'come here', 'clap your hands'.
Linguistic Stage: 15 Months to 8 Years
Children starts to use words around twelve months and by fifteen months they have developed their own word for an object or person and use it consistently. They then go on to use holophrases - using a single word to express several meanings by changing the sound and using gestures. As they grow children gradually put two words together to form a mini-sentence.
Language and Speech Development Chart: 15 Months to 8 Years
Have about ten words that their carers can understand
Words are used to mean more than one thing depending on the intonation the baby uses
Pointing is accompanied by a single word.
Two words are put together e.g. 'bye bye dog'
Telegraphic speech appears, with children using key words in a grammatical way e.g. 'dada come'
Vocabulary increases with children learning 10-30 words in a month
Repeat words and sentences
Use language to name belongings and point out named objects.
Quickly learns new words
Use plurals e.g. 'dogs'
Makes errors e.g. 'drawed', 'sheeps'
Starts to use nagatives e.g. 'there no cats'
Both active and passive vocabularies continue to increase
Sentences become longer although they tend to be in telegraphic speech
Questions are asked frequently, What? And Why?
Speech is understood by strangers
Sentences contain four or more words
Imitates adult speech patterns accurately
Knows and understands nursery rhymes
Enjoys asking questions
Talk to themselves during play
Pronouns are usually used correctly
Rhymes and melody are attractive.
Vocabulary is now extensive
Longer and more complex sentences are used
Are able to narrate long stories including sequence of events
Play involves running commentaries
Can use language to share, take turns, argue, collaborate etc.
Begin to describe how other people feel
Questioning is at its peak
Speech is fully intelligible with few, minor incorrect uses.
Sentences are usually correctly structured although incorrect grammar may still be used
Pronunciation may still be childish
Have a wide vocabulary and can use it appropriately
Vocabulary can include shapes, colours, numbers etc.
Questions become more precise
Offer opinions in discussion.
Understands 13,000 words
Classifies according to form, colour and use
Uses all pronouns correctly.
Understand 20,000-26,000 words
Understands time intervals and seasons of the year
Is aware of mistakes in other peoples' speech.
Form complex and compound sentences much more easily and exhibit few lapses in grammar
Carry on meaningful conversations with adult speakers and follow fairly complex instructions with little or no repetition
Able to read age appropriate texts with ease and begin to demonstrate competence with writing simple compositions
Have acquired various social amenities in common usage, such as 'please' and 'thank you' and will know when and where to use them.
How to Promote Your Child's Language and Speech Development
Sing nursery rhymes with actions like Incey-wincey-spider, play games like pat-a-cake and peek-a-boo. These connect language to actions and help your child's understanding and memory.
Play games involving 'more' or 'again' which can help develop attention and support language too.
Toys, objects and books that make a noise can be used to encourage your child's attention and listening skills.
Talk about everyday activities e.g. putting away the shopping. This helps your child to connect language to the world around them.
Use objects and gestures to support your child's understanding of instructions and questions e.g. Point to their coat when saying "Put your coat on please".
Offer your child choices by showing them two objects and labelling them e.g. 'do you want the teddy or the car?', 'do you want milk or juice?'
Books are a good way to promote speech development - look at pictures together and describe what they can see. Don't be afraid to tell a story more than once, repetition helps your child to understand and remember the language that she hears. 'Lift-the-flap' books are also helpful to encourage concentration.
Children learn speech sounds gradually - saying the whole word back to your child is the best way to encourage language and speech development rather than correcting them. It is also helpful for your child if they can see your face when you are talking to them - this helps your child to watch and copy the movements that your lips make as you say sounds and words.
Often children can be frustrated when adults don't understand them - this can lead to tantrums. Encouraging your child to use gestures for objects or actions can be useful too. Be patient, wait for them to finish what they are saying or trying to show you.
Sometimes children sound as if they are stammering, trying to share all of their ideas before their language skills are ready! This is perfectly normal - just show you are listening and give your child plenty of time.
NOTE: This article is simply a guideline and should not be used to diagnose speech delays. Each child is different so a diagnosis can ONLY be confirmed by a registered Speech Therapist or Speech Pathologist. Always have a licensed professional make a diagnosis.
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