Language Development Stages & Developing Language At-Home

Language development stages

When does language development begin?

Language development begins in the womb, where babies begin to pick up on the sounds, pace and rhythm of language from their mothers and those around her. At birth, a baby can comprehend a full set of 800 phonemes (sounds) – the foundation of every language. At 6 months, your child's brain kicks into high gear, learning the sounds of vowels and then consonants – the foundations for developing the tones and cadences of native language.

But babies can't learn to communicate all on their own. They learn by listening to those around them. And no one is more present than a parent.

Whether a child is demonstrating typical language development or is needing help, parents play a critical role in helping that child learn how to speak, form sounds, and communicate. Because language development is constant – occurring all day, through everyday activities and play, at home and in the community – parents can play an active role in building their child's language and communication skills at home.

Studies also confirm that parents play an important role in speech and language therapy, and their participation can have a significant, positive impact on receptive and expressive language skills of children with and without intellectual disabilities.

What are the stages of language development?

Language development progresses through several stages. Infants first make sounds like crying and cooing in the pre-linguistic stage, followed by the babbling stage where they produce sounds resembling their language. The one-word stage follows, then the two-word, telegraphic, and multi-word stages. As they progress, they use more complex sentences and have a broader vocabulary to express more nuanced thoughts.

Pre-linguistic stage

Pre-linguistic stage occurs from birth to around 6 months of age. During this stage, infants communicate through crying, cooing, and other non-verbal means, such as facial expressions and body language.

Babbling stage

The babbling stage occurs from around 6 to 9 months of age. Children start to produce repetitive syllables, such as "ba-ba-ba" and "ma-ma-ma," as they explore the sounds they can make with their mouths.

Holophrastic or one-word stage

The holophrastic stage or one-word stage, occurs from around 9 to 18 months of age. Children begin to use individual words to convey meaning, such as "mama," "dada," "ball," and "juice." They may also use gestures to supplement their communication.

Two-word stage

The two-word stage occurs from around 18 to 24 months of age. Children begin to combine two words to form simple phrases, such as "me go," "daddy home," or "more cookie."

Telegraphic stage

The telegraphic stage occurs from around 24 to 30 months of age. Children begin to use short, simple sentences that include only essential words, leaving out function words such as "the," "and," and "is." For example, they may say "Daddy go work" instead of "Daddy is going to work."

Multi-word stage

This stage occurs after 30 months of age>. Children begin to use more complex sentences with a greater variety of words and grammatical structures. They may also start to understand and use humor, sarcasm, and other forms of abstract language.

How well should a child speak at 3?

By age 3, most children should be using language to communicate effectively with others. A 3 year old should be able to use simple sentences, ask questions, and understand and follow simple directions. They should also be able to name common objects and describe them using basic adjectives, such as "big," "little," "red," and "blue."

Additionally, they should be able to engage in simple conversations with others, express their wants and needs, and participate in pretend play. However, it's important to remember that every child develops at their own pace, so some children may exhibit these skills earlier or later than others.

10 Strategies to develop child language skills at home

Regardless of whether your child needs extra support with talking and language development, you can play a proactive role in helping to foster a language rich environment. Try to be as present as possible, whether you're walking your baby down the street in a stroller or driving your toddler to preschool.

1. Use self talk and describe what you are doing throughout the day

Label items in the grocery store or at home, and include your child in conversations even if they are not yet talking.

  • “Look at all the fruit here. There are apples, oranges, bananas, kiwi, grapes.”

2. Play! Play is the perfect building block for language

Whether you're rolling balls or cars, playing with dolls or stuffed animals, stacking blocks or riding a bike.

  • “Let's see how far this ball rolls across the rug.”
  • “How high can you stack the blocks?”

3. Imitate what your child does

If they are jumping, you jump. If they are banging two blocks together, do the same. Ask them questions about what they are doing.

  • “Wow, you jump so high!”
  • “Jumping makes me feel strong. How does it make you feel?”
  • “Those blocks sound like a hammer. What does it sound like to you?”

4. Expand on what your child is saying

If they say “ball,” then repeat it and add another work (e.g., “red ball”).

  • If your child says “key,” expand their language with “Yes, that's a black key for our blue car.”

5. Provide your child with choices

Hold out both choices and encourage your child to reach for the choice they want, then model the one they choose.

  • “Do you want avocado or blueberries?” Then model their choice: “I want blueberries.”

6. Use child-directed speech

Talk about what they are focused on or interested in.

  • “I really like your stuffed penguin. Does he like swimming in cold water? Does he fly?”

7. Interact with your child using age-appropriate language.

For example, with a baby or toddler, use simplified, melodic speech. As your child gets older, model appropriate language construction.

  • For a toddler: “Singing, singing, singing a song.”
  • For an elementary student: “The neighbors are building a very tall fence.”

8. Emphasize important words

Your child is likely watching your every move, so it's important to emphasize words related to what you are doing and interacting with in sentences during everyday activities.

  • “Turn on the WATER”
  • “You're tying your TENNIS SHOE”

9. Read and ask questions

Read with your child and ask them questions about the book you are reading.

  • “Which is the bigger bear?”
  • “Do you think the little girl is sad she lost her dog?”

10. Wait for them to respond

Use “expectant waiting” to model natural language. Don't rush your child. Ask a question and wait for a response. Have them complete a sentence.

  • “Do you want more bubbles?” If he doesn't answer right away, ask “More?”
  • “Ready, set…” Wait for your child to fill in “Go!”

Parents play a crucial role in their child developing language skills

Remember, parents play a critical role in helping their child build communication skills and language.

  • “Creating a language rich environment is beneficial to all children. Providing chances to learn with their minds (thinking), bodies (moving) and hearts (feelings) is crucial to good communication.

    The easiest way to do this is to play! It is time well spent!”

    - Julie Norman, M.S. CCC-SLP and HYM Lead Therapist

Written by Dr. Cari Whitlock

Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Neuropsychologist at Healthy Young Minds

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