Children develop at a rapid rate and acquire many skills throughout childhood. Language development begins at birth and research has shown that language is being processed around the 5 month gestation period, before birth. Research has also shown that girls typically develop language skills more quickly than boys. It is important to understand that children develop at their own pace and language milestones will vary for each child. Listening and responding to children’s verbal and non-verbal cues will help with the acquisition of language skills. Infants communicate by crying; recognizing and responding to your babies cries helps in building the skill of communication. Please visit a previous post on “How to Respond to Your Baby’s Cries” for more information. Although crying is the primary way in which infants communicate; as children progress through early childhood they develop additional aspects of language. There are 3 identified facets of language of which all individuals learn to communicate:
- Receptive language: is recognizing and understanding what is being communicated.
- Expressive language: is the ability to produce sounds and communicate information. Communicating with others through the use of speech and vocabulary.
- Pragmatic language: is the ability to know how and when to use language socially. Through intonation, tone, volume, gestures, facial expression, eye contact, etc. This aspect of language helps to express what is meant and understood.
Ways to Support Language Development:
- Just be you: model language by speaking as you normally do. It’s ok to be playful, but be clear in the use of words and give appropriate names for objects.
- Be descriptive: as you enjoy moments with your child, find opportunities to describe and explain what they are doing and what you are doing, this builds vocabulary. While changing clothes, talk about your actions, “Mommy is going to change your socks, and you’re lifting your foot so I can put on your red socks.”
- Any topic will do: children do not mind what you talk about, as long as you are talking. Information sharing can come in a variety of forms, whether it’s about cleaning the house, going on an outing or the weather. To learn language you have to hear it.
- Read: use a variety of language tools such as pictures, books, and poems that are vivid and have real images of familiar objects and experiences. Talk about the images that you see in addition to the text.
- The Art of Conversation: practicing the back and forth exchange of language teaches children the process of responding. Practice pausing during this process to give your child time to process and to learn the art of conversation.
- Sing: the use of song is engaging for children and they can learn the words to familiar songs over a period of time because of the repetitiveness.
- Use play: the post on “Do Not Disturb-Play In Progress” touched on how play increases language development.
- Limit TV use: visit this link for more information on how TV viewing decreases parent and child communication.
Speaking those first words depends on the child, and also depends on how much language the child is exposed to. Children learn language through imitation and repetitiveness from others, particularly their parents. Below are some language milestones. Remember that children develop at their own pace, but if you think that your child’s speech is delayed, please consult with your child’s pediatrician.
- From birth to 3 months: infants are crying and cooing. Infants become more aware of their parents voice and may respond in various ways.
- From 4 to 6 months: infants are starting to babble, “gaga, mama, or dada.” They are more aware of the sounds they make and are responsive to sounds around them. They will try to turn their heads in the direction of a particular sounds.
- From 7 to12 months: infants will repeat more sounds, listen more actively, and begin to understand more words and commands.
- From 1 to 2 years old: children will begin to say one and two word sentences and their understanding of language is growing significantly. They will point to objects they want and use 10-15 words by 18 months.
- From 2 to 3 years old: children may use about 50 words at 2 years and up to 300 by age 3. They are developing clear sentence structure and will use two and three word sentences. They understand directions and ask questions.