Your Child’s Speech
Although speech and language continue to develop through adolescence, children usually reach major milestones in predictable stages by 6 years of age. The exact pace at which speech and language develop varies among children, especially the age at which they begin to talk.
Communication skills are often categorized as receptive language and expressive language. Receptive language is the understanding of words and sounds. Expressive language is the use of speech (sounds and words) and gestures to communicate meaning. Of course all children develop at different rates, including their speech development – some are precocious and early talkers, whereas others may bemore naturally quiet.
Developmental Speech milestones can be described according to age.
- Birth to age 1:
- Babies start to process the communication signals they receive and learn to vary their cries to communicate their needs.
- During the first months of life, a baby is usually able to recognize his or her mother’s voice and actively listen to language rhythms.
- By 6 months of age, most babies express themselves through cooing. This progresses to babbling and repeating sounds.
- By the first birthday, babies understand and can identify each parent, often by name (“mama,” “dada”). They repeat sounds they hear and may know a few words.
- Ages 1 to 3:
- After the first birthday through age 2, a toddler’s speech and language foundation grows rapidly. During that time, 1-year-olds learn that words have meaning. They point to things they want, and often use one- or two-syllable sounds, such as “baba” for “bottle.”
- By age 2, children usually can say at least 50 words and recognize the names of many objects, including those in pictures. They also understand simple requests and statements, such as “all gone.”
- Many 2-year-olds talk a lot. They usually can name some body parts (such as arms and legs) and objects (such as a book). Not all their words are intelligible; some are made-up and combined with real words.
- In addition to understanding simple requests, they can also follow them (such as “put the book on the table”). They should be able to say at least 50 words. They usually can say about 150 to 200 words, some of which are simple phrases, such as “want cookie.” Pronouns (such as “me” or “she”) are used, but often incorrectly.
- Some children are naturally quieter than others. But a child who consistently uses gestures and facial expressions to communicate should be evaluated by a doctor. These children are at increased risk for having speech problems.
- Ages 3 through 5:
- More sophisticated speech and language develops from ages 3 through 5.
- By age 3, most children learn new words quickly and can follow two-part instructions (such as “wash your face and comb your hair“). They start to use plurals and form short complete sentences. And most of the time their speech can be understood by others outside of their family. “Why” and “what” become popular questions.
- Most 4-year-olds use longer sentences and can describe an event. They understand how things are different, such as the distinction between children and grown-ups.
- Most 5-year-olds can carry on a conversation with another person.
You can’t really tell whether a child with delayed speech is a late bloomer or has an expressive language disorder or other underlying cause of speech delay. That’s why it’s worth seeking help. The earlier your child gets help, the greater their progress will be. And if they turn out to be a late bloomer, the extra attention to their speech will not have hurt in any way.
Fraser Health Speech and Language program has an easy set of Criteria you can use if you are having concerns about your child’s speech:
By 10 months: Babbling (ba ba ba; na na na)
By 1 year: Single words (Mama; Dada)
By 2 years: 2 word combinations (Mama come)
By 3 years: 3 word combinations (Mommy get ball)
The Fraser Health Speech and Language program phone number is 604-918-7663 and they want to hear from you if you have any concerns. Feel free to contact them to attend a Free Speech Assessment Drop-In Clinic
Here are some parenting tips for helping along your child’s speech and language:
- Start talking to your child at birth. Even newborns benefit from hearing speech.
- Respond to your baby’s coos and babbling.
- Play simple games with your baby like peek-a-boo and patty-cake.
- Listen to your child. Look at them when they talk to you. Give them time to respond. (It feels like an eternity, but count to 5—or even 10—before filling the silence).
- Describe for your child what they are doing, feeling and hearing in the course of the day.
- Encourage storytelling and sharing information.
- Don’t try to force your child to speak.
- Read books.
- Ask a librarian for books appropriate to your child’s age. If your baby loses interest in the text, just talk about the pictures.
- Sing to your child and provide them with music. Learning new songs helps your child learn new words, and uses memory skills, listening skills, and expression of ideas with words.
- Expand on what your child says. (For example, if your child says, “Elmo!”, you can say, “You want Elmo!”)
- Talk a lot to your child. Tell them what you are doing as you do it.
- Plan family trips and outings. Your new experiences give you something interesting to talk about before, during, and after the outing.
- Look at family photos and talk about them.
- Answer your child every time they speak—this rewards them for talking.
- Ask your child lots of questions.
- Use gestures along with words.
- Don’t criticize grammar mistakes. Instead, just model good grammar.
- Play with your child one-on-one, and talk about the toys and games you are playing.
- Follow your child’s lead, so you are doing activities that hold their interest as you talk.
- Have your child play with kids whose language is a little better than theirs.
Screen time has been linked to increased risk in expressive speech delay. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents prioritize creative, unplugged playtime for infants and toddlers. Some media can have educational value for children starting at around 18 months of age, but it’s critically important that this be high-quality programming. Parents of young children should watch media with their child, to help children understand what they are seeing.