Happy Talk: The Milestones of Child Language Development
By Kirsty Henderson, Speech and Language Therapist, Happy Talk, BSc Hons, HCPC
A child’s journey as he or she learns language is a remarkable one. By the age of 5, most children are speaking in complicated sentences. They can also use up to 2,500 different words. The ability to talk opens up a world of possibility for children. They can better express what they need, like and dislike. They can voice their opinions; and tell their parents about things that they have experienced or seen. They can chat to their friends. They can also embark on the language-rich adventure of stories, school and learning about the wider world.
So, how does all of this magic unfold? Here is what you can expect from your baby or toddler at different stages of learning to talk.
In the womb
Babies can hear well before they are born. They hear their first sounds, whilst still in the womb, at 15-16 weeks. By 24 weeks in the womb, their hearing is developing rapidly. Some research shows that children are learning language for the last 10 weeks of pregnancy. Their journey of language discovery has already begun.
In the first year of life, children are growing fast. They may not be talking yet but they are listening hard. The stream of incoming language that they hear is the bedrock for their future talking. As children listen, they are storing common words. In this way, they start to build a store or dictionary of these words inside their heads. Babies are busy making sounds too. They start with cooing and babbling and soon progress to using long strings of speech-like babble. By 12 months old, children understand the word “No”, the names of common objects such as “Cup” and “Ball” and can follow some simple instructions.
A child’s first birthday is an exciting threshold. Around now, he or she starts to use their first recognisable words, usually saying “mummy” and “daddy”. At this stage, a child may be saying 2- 6 single words. By the age of 18 months, this has increased to 6 to 40 words. Words like “Ball, baby, up and car” often come along early in language development. The word “No” usually appears in this early stage too. Once a child learns the word “No”, they might say it quite a lot! Of course, the words learned do depend on likes, interests and motivation. So, if a child has a particular passion for chocolate or banana, these words may start to pop up in their speech early on as well.
Around the age of two, another awesome milestone is met. At this stage, children start to put two words together to form mini sentences. They say things like “Me too”, “No car”, “More milk”, “Get down”, “Telly on” and “Daddy go”. This language phase is known as ‘telegraphic speech’. This relates back to the days when people sent telegrams. In those times, people had to pay for every word they used in a telegram. To save themselves money, people would cut out the ‘little’ words; including only the minimum number of words needed to get their message across. A 2 year old’s language misses out the little words too. The child uses the minimum number of words to get their message across. This is why this chapter of speech development is called telegraphic speech.
As development unfolds, understanding of language is one step ahead of language use: this means that very young children understand far more words than they speak. In this way, a two year old who speaks in simple two-word sentences may understand a thousand different words… or even more than that.
By the age of 3, children still understand far more words than they say. Now they also start to speak in simple sentences. These sentences are often imperfect, some would say charmingly so. Children at this age say things like “My shoe dirty”, “He stand on it” and “That my dinosaur”. At 3 years old, there is a wide range of sentence building ability. Most children now use sentences which are 3-4 words long. Sometimes, children construct even longer sentences than this. Vocabulary-wise, a 3 year old child may use 300 different words in their speech.
The brain ‘dictionary’ of words that a 4 year old understands and can use is expanding all the time. By the age of 4, children are talking a lot. Their spoken vocabulary has leapt up to 1000 words or more. Although 4 year olds still make language errors, their sentence structure is getting better and better. They talk in long sentences, tell stories and join ideas together.
Children’s sentence-building ability is more or less in place by the age of 5. However, the remarkable journey of language learning doesn’t stop there. This foundation continues to be polished and refined in the years ahead. People build their vocabulary into adulthood too. On average, people continue to expand their vocabulary store right through until they are 55 years old. So it is that the incredible journey of language learning starts in the womb, builds quickly in childhood and even continues well into adult life.
If you have concerns or questions about your child’s talking, please contact speech and language therapist Kirsty on 0117 963 7129 / firstname.lastname@example.org
You can also find out more information by visiting http://happytalkbristol.co.uk/.
*Disclosure: This was a sponsored post.