“Was that a ‘hi’ I just heard?”
Remember saying something like that the first time you thought your baby said a word? It’s a common, exciting experience, and one most parents look forward to. But the truth is, you don’t have to wait long!
From your baby’s first coos to full sentences of toddlerhood, your child’s language skills develop quickly from the time they are born. The first 3 years of life are such a rapid time of language development that never again will children learn as much about language as fast as they will during these first years. It’s simply amazing to watch their communication skills flourish from the cries of infancy to hearing the intriguing world views of a 3-year-old. Let’s take a look at children’s language development through each developmental stage.
Pre-language communication: from zero to 11 months
From birth, babies have the ability to differentiate their cries — meaning they have different sounding cries for different needs. Between 7 and 9 weeks, most babies will begin to vocalize sounds that are similar to vowel sounds. From 3 to 6 months, babies begin to vocalize in response to their caregivers’ talking and smiles, mainly in the form of cooing, vowel sounds and throaty consonant sounds. Between 6 and 9 months, babies can locate the source of a sound and babble to get attention. Between 9 and 11 months, babies begin to babble two-syllable sounds like mama or dada, can imitate kissing sounds and tongue clicks and can understand and carry out simple commands.
Babbling to Words: 12- 21 months
Babies typically make the big leap from babbling to speaking in recognizable words during this important time of language development. Between the ages of 12 to 15 months, babies use one or two common words and know their meanings. They can understand key words in familiar situations. By the time babies are 15 to 18 months old, they can point to familiar things like toys, family members or objects when you ask them to. They can also babble short sentences using inflection. Between 18 and 21 months old, most babies can use between 6 and 20 recognizable words. They also recognize body part names and can point to their eyes, nose, mouth, hair, etc.
Words to Sentences: 21 months to 3 years
There is another explosion of language learning during this period of development. Between 21 and 24 months old, toddlers can usually understand simple explanations and follow two-step instructions. They begin to use two-word sentences like “Bye-bye, mama.” From 24 to 27 months, toddlers begin to comprehend more complex instructions. They can follow a short series of related commands and put together three-word sentences. Between 27 and 30 months, children enjoy hearing stories about their family and familiar experiences. They can name familiar people when you ask. Between 30 and 33 months, they can tell you what an object is used for. From 33 months to 3 years, kids can point to at least six different body parts. They usually have a vocabulary of 200 or more words, though they may not pronounce every word properly. They may also make grammar errors at this age.
Keep in Mind
It’s important to remember that all children develop at different rates. These milestones are approximations – some kids hit them earlier, some hit them later, and that’s perfectly fine. However, if your child is delayed hitting these milestones by 3 to 6 months, and your child is otherwise healthy, consider consulting a professional. Talk to your pediatrician, who can tell you the next steps if your child requires them. Regardless of any speech or language delays, all kids should have their hearing tested by age 2.
What You Can Do
You can help foster your child’s language development by talking to your baby from birth on. (In fact, some experts promote doing this while baby is still in the womb.) And it’s never too early to start reading to your child, since this can also help your child’s language skills develop.
If you have any questions about your child’s language development, see a Sparkles! team member. We’d be happy to help.