The first three years of a child's life are most critical for language acquisition. Within the first year, the child begins to acquire speech and communication skills. Therefore, an environment rich in sounds, sights, and communication is ideal for the child.
Even an infant needs consistent exposure to others’ speech & language to develop their own communication skills. If your child does not receive sufficient exposure to communication and auditory stimulation, it may become difficult for them to reach the speech and language milestones.
The stages of early language development remain universal for every child. The very first signs of communication in infants include crying. As soon as they learn that crying may bring them food, companionship, and attention, they begin using it to convey their feelings and desires.
Every newborn starts to recognize the sounds of their mother's and father's voice within the first few weeks. They sort different speech sounds as they grow older. By the time they are 6-months old, babies can typically recognize the basic sounds of the primary languages their parents or caregivers speak.
Although nearly all children will follow a natural progression of language acquisition, there will be slight variations in the advancement of language skills among children. You can refer to our speech checklist for children between the ages of 2 and 4 years to ensure that your child is advancing according to their age.
- How to understand if your child has a developmental delay?
- What are the speech and language development milestones?
- What are some of the common causes of developmental delays in children?
- Childhood Language Delay: What are the Risk Factors?
- What is early intervention? Why is it so important?
- How can Stamurai help develop language skills and minimize the signs of language delay in children?
- How can parents help a child with language acquisition at home?
1. How to understand if your child has a developmental delay?
You may ask, "What's the normal rate of language development for my child?" It is indeed difficult for parents to estimate if their child has a developmental delay. In such situations, several parents employ the "wait and watch" approach since many children catch up with their peers without any intervention.
However, if there is indeed a cause for delay in speech and language acquisition, such as hearing impairment or a congenital disorder, you may be losing out on precious time to address these issues. Learning more about early childhood language development is the best way to make the correct decisions involving your child.
We have put together all the information you need on language development in children, language delays, early signs of language delay, and possible early interventions for all parents.
2. What are the speech and language development milestones?
As we have mentioned before, the acquisition of speech and language skills follows a standard universal timeline. A child will babble before they say their first word. After that, the child may begin to use one or two words to express themselves.
Nonetheless, there will be significant variation in the speech and language acquisition between two kids of the same age. Therefore, it is crucial to know what is considered "typical" by speech-language pathologists (SLPs), pediatricians, and other clinicians in terms of language acquisition in children.
Speech and language development during infancy
Did you know that language development begins in a child when they are in the womb. Several studies show that, during the last trimester, the unborn baby can absorb the different sounds that the biological mother is exposed to. They can acclimate and respond to these sounds in their unique ways.
The first sign of communication comes immediately after birth as the child cries for the first time. Their urges and skills of communication should only increase from that point onwards.
From birth to 3-months
Although many adults believe that an infant has little ability to recognize people and sounds, it is untrue. Here are some early efforts of communication made by infants who are younger than 3-months -
- They may calm down and smile when a parent or caregiver speaks to them.
- They make cooing sounds to attract attention.
- Infants can recognize the voice of their mother, father, grandparents, and siblings.
- Infants often cry differently to express varying needs.
Between 4 and 6-months
Children who are close to 6-months should begin to babble. The babbling sound should resemble speech sounds. You may be able to discern sounds like “babbah” or “mi-mi” in their babbling. Between 4 and 6-months of age -
- They should also begin to laugh and giggle.
- Children of this age should be able to recognize your face and respond to the changes in your voice.
- They should make gurgling noises while playing with you or when alone.
- A child should be able to follow the direction of a voice or sound with their eyes.
Between the ages of 7-months and 1-year
- Children should say their first word by their first birthday.
- They should be able to respond to and play simple games (such as peek-a-boo).
- Children who are nearly 1-year old should understand and respond to simple requests like “look here.”
- They should make an effort to imitate different speech sounds.
- They should be able to understand simple words like “papa,” “mama,” and “milk.”
- Children should be able to communicate using simple gestures and expressions such as waving, pouting, and holding their arms up.
Speech and language development in toddlers
Language acquisition gains momentum during the second year of a child’s life. Children older than 1-year and younger than 2-years should add new words to their vocabulary regularly. By their second birthday, children should be able to use most of these words in context to express how they feel and what they need.
Between 1 and 2-years
- Children of this age learn new words daily, and their vocabulary keeps growing.
- They can string two words to form simple short sentences like “more milk” or “give me.”
- Children can say words that begin with consonant sounds.
- They can enjoy and try to mimic songs and rhymes.
- They should be able to understand and follow basic commands like “come here” or “don’t touch.”
- They can understand and respond to simple questions like “where’s daddy?”
- They can point to illustrations or pictures in books when named.
- They can gesture at and point to objects or people when told about them.
From 2 to 3-years
- A child who is almost 3-years old should have a vocabulary of at least 400 words.
- The child should begin to use two and three-word sentences.
- Family and friends should be able to understand their speech most of the time.
- They can name objects and people when they make a request or talk about them.
- Children closer to their third birthday can easily pronounce /d/, /f/, /g/, /k/, /n/ and /t/ sounds.
Speech and language development among preschoolers
By the time children are ready for preschool, they have added hundreds of words to their vocabulary. They can string words together to produce 3-word sentences. During their preschool years, children should be able to speak intelligibly most of the time. Even people who are not familiar with your child should be able to understand their speech at least 75% of the time.
Between 3 and 4-years old
- A child older than 3-years but younger than 4-years should answer when their name is called from another room.
- The child should be able to answer simple questions like “who,” “where,” “why,” and “what.”
- They should be able to talk about their friends, school, activities, favorite toys, and games.
- A child older than 3-years should begin to club four or more words to form sentences.
Language development in school-aged children
Children older than 4-years should experience a quick expansion of their communication skills. A healthy and neurotypical 4-year-old should show the urge to communicate and connect with other children.
Beyond 5-years of age, children should continue to learn and use new words. Their vocabulary should double before they learn to read by the age of 6-7 years. Children should exhibit early comprehension abilities by their 8th or 9th birthday.
From 4 to 5-years old
- A child between the ages of 4 and 5-years should speak in complete sentences. They should be able to use descriptive language.
- They may struggle with a few sounds, such as /r/, /ch/, /th/, and /sh/, but they should be able to say most of the speech sounds correctly.
- They can read and answer simple questions about the text.
- They can understand most verbal and written communication.
- Children can hold short conversations while staying on topic.
- They can use adult grammar in speech.
- They can follow commands and instructions.
- It is normal for all children to ask lots of questions.
3. What are some of the common causes of developmental delays in children?
When a child lags behind their peers in terms of mental, emotional, and physical growth, it can be referred to as developmental delay.
Several factors can contribute to early language development delays in children. Infants begin learning language by mimicking the sound of words they hear from their parents or caregivers. Therefore, a lack of stimulus and one-on-one attention during the first few months can cause language delay.
In addition, multiple neurological and physical factors can cause or contribute to language delay in children –
Childhood apraxia of speech (CAS)
Childhood apraxia of speech or CAS is a neurological condition that interrupts the flow of signals from the brain to the speech-producing parts of the mouth. CAS makes talking difficult, or nearly impossible for the affected individuals.
Aphasia is a rare neurological language disorder that may result from damage to the parts of the brain involved in the processing and producing language. Aphasia can make it difficult for the affected children to understand and use language.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
ASD is a neurological and developmental disorder. It affects the individual’s overall cognition, emotion, and social communication skills. It is a lifelong condition that may improve with persistent and targeted speech therapy for autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Recurring ear infections can lead to hearing impairment in children. If your child shows signs of recurring ear infections, you should consult their pediatrician or an ear-nose-throat (ENT) specialist immediately.
Children (male) born with an extra X chromosome have Klinefelter syndrome. It is a genetic condition that affects the expressive language abilities of individuals.
Intellectual disabilities (ID) can be due to various reasons. However, an individual with ID may have trouble with receptive and expressive language development since early childhood. Children with ID may also have learning disabilities.
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) refer to a group of conditions that are commonly observed in children who were exposed to alcohol before birth. They may have problems that range from physical disorders to language acquisition and learning.
Myopathies include pathologies or disorders of muscles. It can include conditions like muscular dystrophy. Dystrophy of muscles or weakness in and around the parts involved in speech production can cause developmental delays in children.
Babies with cerebral palsy (CP) are often slow in reaching developmental milestones, such as learning to roll over, sit, crawl, stand, and walk. They may even experience delays in language acquisition depending on the areas of the brain affected by an underlying condition.
4. Childhood Language Delay: What are the Risk Factors?
As per the US Preventive Services Task Force, the potential risk factors for language delay may include –
- Being male (Male babies are more frequently affected and diagnosed with language delay as compared to biologically female babies)
- Premature birth
- A low birth weight
- A family history of speech and language problems
- Consanguineous marriage
- Low levels of paternal education
- Birth asphyxia
- Seizure disorders
- Oro-pharyngeal deformity (such as a cleft palate)
These are some of the conditions that increase the risks of a child growing up with a language disorder. However, it is not mandatory for a child to experience developmental or language delays if they have one or more of the conditions listed above.
5. What is early intervention? Why is it so important?
Early intervention for delayed language development in children may include simple activities and games, or full-fledged speech therapy depending on the cause and nature of the delay.
Children acquire speech and language skills sequentially. A child will first babble and try to imitate speech sounds. Then they will proceed to say their first words and then form sentences. It is extremely uncommon for children to begin speaking in full sentences without going through the early stages of language development.
While some parents employ the "Wait and watch" practice, experienced speech-language pathologists recommend a thorough evaluation and assessment of any child who is showing potential signs of speech and language delay. It is a common misbelief that children will outgrow their language delay. However, the longer you delay the intervention, the slimmer the chances of your child recovering from the delay without any lasting effects on their communication.
The first three years of a child's life are critical for language acquisition. Delaying intervention may cause your child to lose out on the founding years of language and communication skill acquisition.
Early intervention is when you take your child for evaluation and subsequent speech therapy by their 3rd birthday. One of the primary benefits of early intervention is its positive effect on the child's educational success. Children who receive the correct diagnosis and treatment or therapy for their speech delay at an early age have higher self-confidence and self-esteem growing up.
Depending on the unique needs of your child, the intervention methods will vary significantly. No two children receive the same early intervention for language delay!
At Stamurai, our team of highly experienced speech language pathologists provide online speech therapy for early childhood development; they work with you and your child to improve the following –
Communication skills may include gesturing, signing, imitating, speaking, responding, listening, and comprehending language.
Depending on your child's age, the SLP will work towards improving their learning and problem-solving skills.
The SLP will also work with you and your child to boost their empathy, understanding of feelings, expression of emotions, and relationship skills.
The SLP will provide you with all the necessary materials on speech and language delay in children. You will learn new activities and speech exercises for speech delay in children that you can do at home with your child to boost their language and communication skills.
Clear communication and a safe communication environment are crucial for a child's self-esteem. The SLP will teach you conventional as well as alternative ways of communicating with your child that make them feel understood. It can reduce the possibility of frustration and anxiety that are often noticed in children with communication delays and language disorders.
6. How can Stamurai help develop language skills and minimize the signs of language delay in children?
Stamurai has trained and certified experts to evaluate and assess your child's existing communication and language skills. They specialize in early intervention strategies for speech and language problems that commonly affect children. You will receive a comprehensive review and diagnosis of any childhood language disorders, or developmental delays that your child may be experiencing.
7. How can parents help a child with language acquisition at home?
Children spend most of their time with their parents. Therefore, you have the best opportunity to serve as a speech and language model for your child. With online speech therapy for early childhood development, you can emulate an even better model for your child.
Often, simply spending more quality time with your child can create a language-rich and stimulating environment that can boost your child’s language and communication abilities.
Here are some ways you can support your child’s language & communication development –
Narrate your experiences
Keep narrating whatever you are seeing, hearing, or doing. For example, you can say, "I am watching a movie," "I am washing the veggies," "I am driving to the park," or "I am eating." These are simple sentences that will fill the environment with different speech sounds for your child to hear and grasp. It may feel somewhat odd in the beginning but you can take this opportunity to help your child form a link between the words and actions. Even infants can benefit from hearing you narrate your actions.
Give them choices
Don't just hand things over to your child. Give them simple options. For example, you can ask them, "Do you want an apple or a banana?" during snack time. Or, ask "blue or red" when picking out their clothes. Even if your child isn't speaking yet, it will motivate your child to share their opinions.
Model sound and speech
Always speak clearly and do not use telegraphic sentences. Children need to hear correct grammar and syntax to grasp language. You can use simple correct sentences like “We are going to the park”.
Try to use sounds that will encourage your child. For example, when you see a dog, you can say “woof woof” or say that a car goes “vroom.” These are sound stimuli that will motivate your child to listen and mimic.
Read with your child
Although your child may be too young to read on their own, dedicate a specific time slot to read with them. Books rich in images, graphics, etc., are especially helpful in providing necessary visual and auditory stimuli to a child. Reserve 30-minutes before their bedtime to read a story rich in different word sounds.
Take turns talking about the characters in the story. Make up your own stories as you read. Ask simple Yes/No questions to your child while reading. Here’s a list of books your child may enjoy!
We don't need you to sing like a Grammy nominee. No matter how you sound, try singing nursery rhymes and songs to your child whenever you have time. From "Wheels on the Bus" to "Somewhere over the rainbow," your child will love it when you sing to them! Fill long car rides and bath time with the music.
Songs help children recognize and learn the natural intonations and rhythms of speech. If you have a secret love for 90s pop, no one will judge you!