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The development of language skills in young children is a multi-step process that is both fascinating and complex. Learn how language skills are formed, important milestones for language development and test your knowledge with quiz questions.

What Is Language Development?

The development of language skills in young children, or how we communicate with others, is a three-step process.

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First, children must hear the words repeatedly and become familiar with these particular sounds. Second, they must make an association between the familiar words and what these words represent. Finally, once they are able to recognize the sounds and the people or objects those sounds represent, children can begin to experiment with trying to say those same words.For example, when a parent points to herself and says ‘mommy’ doesn’t mean anything to the child initially, but over time the child will learn that the word ‘mommy’ is used for one particular person, just as the word ‘shoe,’ ‘dog,’ and ‘car’ identify other distinct objects. By the time a child is 12 months of age, he can identify a handful of people or objects by recognizing their name.

The Process of Language Development

The development of language skills in children is a process that starts at birth and continues for several years but is most concentrated during the first five years of a child’s life.

In these early years, the brain is rapidly developing as it takes in and attempts to make sense of many sights and sounds. These sounds, which include listening to the speech and language patterns of caregivers and others, are especially important in the development of the child’s language skills.A child begins his own form of language within the first few months of life. A child begins his own form of language within the first few months of life. An infant making cooing sounds as early as three months of age is an example of early speech. Gurgling and babbling by six months is yet another example.

By nine months, most children can typically identify objects or people when the identifying word is used, but they can’t yet say them. Their brains have not yet developed to the point that they are able to actually pronounce these words.It isn’t until about 12 months that the child begins to utter actual words, such as ‘mama’ or ‘dada.

‘ Once identifiable words begin, speech tends to develop rapidly. By 18 months, a child typically can say more than 10 words, and by two years of age, his verbal vocabulary has increased to over 50 words. By their third birthdays, most children have the ability to speak in short sentences and have vocabularies of about 450 words.

Language Milestones

Language milestones act as checkpoints in a child’s ability to communicate to others. They determine what the average child is able to do at a particular age. Knowing the language milestones for different ages helps parents, teachers, and healthcare professionals understand normal child language acquisition and also aids in identifying potential problems with delayed language development.

For example, a child who is 18 months old should be able to say at least 10 words. If a child reaches 18 months of age but still is not attempting to form words, it might indicate a problem that needs further investigation.Here are some of the more important language development milestones from three months of age to five years.

By Three Months, a Child Might:

  • Recognize a parent’s voice
  • Show a startle response to loud noises
  • Make cooing sounds

By Six Months, a Child Might:

  • Pay attention to music
  • Make babbling or gurgling sounds
  • Respond to changes in a person’s voice

By 12 Months, a Child Might:

  • Attempt to imitate words
  • Turn toward the source of sounds
  • Say repeated words, such as ‘mama’ or ‘dada’

By Two Years, a Child Might:

  • Combine two words, such as ‘mommy bye-bye’
  • Speak up to 50 words
  • Imitate the sounds of known animals

By Three Years, a Child Might:

  • Speak up to 450 words
  • Ask for the same story to be repeated
  • Speak in short sentences like ‘me go home’

By Four Years, a Child Might:

  • Ask many questions related to ‘who’ and ‘why’
  • Use the past tense correctly
  • Have a verbal vocabulary of 1,500 words

By Five Years, a Child Might:

  • Have a vocabulary of 2,000 words
  • Use sentences of five to six words in length
  • Understand and use spatial relations, such as ‘behind’ and ‘near’

Lesson Summary

Language skills in young children develop in a three-step process that involves hearing the words repeatedly, making an association between familiar words and what they represent, and attempting to imitate or speak the words. Early speech is recognized as cooing sounds as early as three months and gurgling or babbling noises by six months. By nine months, most children can typically identify objects or people when the identifying word is used, but they can’t yet say them. It isn’t until about 12 months that the child begins to utter actual words. Once speech begins, the child rapidly develops an extensive vocabulary.

Language Skills in Children Overview

Development Characteristics
Language skills a three-step process in a child’s development
Birth process begins
12 months words uttered like ‘mama’, ‘dada’, ‘cat’, ‘dog’
18 months 10 word vocabulary
2 years 50 words
3 years short sentences; 450 word vocabulary
4 years asks ‘who’ and ‘why’ questions; 1500 words
5 years 2000 words; understands spatial relations

Learning Outcomes

After you are finished, you should be prepared to:

  • Identify the concept of language development in children
  • Describe the milestones of this development
  • Explain the importance if children do not meet these milestones

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