Language is an amazing skill for children to master, and it’s a development that many parents really look forward to. The secret to helping your child learn language is very simple: talk together lots and listen lots.
While the first year is particularly important for language development, major learning continues throughout a child’s early years. And let’s not forget, learning language is a lifelong process.
In their first 12 months, babies develop many of the foundations that underpin speech and language development. For the first three years or so, children understand a lot more than they can say.
Language development supports your child’s ability to communicate, and express and understand feelings. It also supports thinking and problem-solving, and developing and maintaining relationships. Learning to understand, use and enjoy language is the critical first step in literacy, and the basis for learning to read and write.
Here are just a few of the important things your child might achieve in language development between three months and six years.
In this period, your baby will most likely coo and laugh, play with sounds and begin to communicate with gestures. Babbling is an important developmental stage during the first year and, for many children, words are beginning to form by around 12 months.
During this time, the first words usually appear (these one-word utterances are rich with meaning), and by 18 months babies use around 50 words. Babies can understand more than they say, though, and will be able to follow simple instructions and understand you when you say ‘no’ (although they won’t always obey!). If your baby is not babbling and not using gestures by 12 months, talk to your doctor or a health professional.
18 months to 2 years
In her second year, your toddler’s vocabulary will probably grow to around 300 words, and he will start to put two words together into short ‘sentences’. He’ll understand much of what is said to him, and you’ll be able to understand what he says to you (most of the time!). Language development varies hugely, but if some words have not emerged by around 18 months, talk to your doctor or a health professional.
She’ll be able to speak in longer, more complex sentences, and use more and more speech sounds properly when she speaks. She might play and talk at the same time. Strangers will probably be able to understand most of what she says by the time she’s three.
Now your child’s a preschooler, you can expect longer, more abstract and complex conversations. He’ll probably also want to talk about a wide range of topics, and his vocabulary will continue to grow. He might well show that he understands the basic rules of grammar, as he experiments with more complex sentences. And you can look forward to some entertaining stories, too.
During the early school years, your child will learn more words and start to understand how the sounds within language work together. She will also become a better storyteller, as she learns to put words together in a variety of ways and build different types of sentences.