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Language development

Language development

Language development: Developmental milestones birth-3 years

Now, first things first! Before you scan this article and jump straight down to your child’s age and stage, it is important that you read these first few lines. While this contains information outlining language developmental milestones, it is important to point out that all children develop their language skills at different rates. Just because your child might not be checking off all the boxes for their age and stage, does not mean that they have a language delay or disorder. Having worked as a paediatric speech pathologist for over fifteen years now, I’m often hesitant to write or talk too much about what a child should be doing at certain ages and stages. Very often I have seen children who are not talking at 18months to be speaking in sentences 6 months later. That said, however, there is a general pattern of early language development and this pattern provides us with an excellent guide to monitor children’s language development and seek assistance from relevant professionals if required.

From a personal perspective, all of my three children developed their speech and language at different rates. While my first child was born talking, she also didn’t walk until she was well over 18 months. It took a little longer for my second child to say her first word as she was too busy exploring her environment and getting into mischief, and well my third child, a little boy, talked much later because he was so busy climbing chairs and tables that he really didn’t have time to talk. My point is that I, like many parents, worried about whether my child was going to met the checklist at their next appointment and on occasions I’ll admit they didn’t, but I also knew that given time and with the right assistance from the appropriate person they would tick all the boxes they needed too and me stressing out really wasn’t going to help matters! Below is a guide of what language developmental milestones to expect from birth to 3 years. This is a guide and not intended for any parent to stress or worry that their child isn’t where they need to be. It may, however, provide you with some useful information to gauge whether your child may benefit from an assessment by a speech and language pathologist just to make sure your child is following the general pattern of early language development.


It’s amazing how right from birth; babies will interact with their world. Long before they speak, babies will communicate with us in many different ways. (That non stop crying at 2am is your baby’s way of telling you something!!!) During this stage of development your baby will develop many skills to help them understand language and learn to communicate with you. Your baby will:

• React to sounds and follow sounds with their eyes
• When feeding, stop sucking when they hear a sound
• Calm or quieten down when they hear a voice they know
• Turn to you when they hear you speak
• Smile when they hear or see you
• Have different cries for different needs (Hungry cry versus Sleepy cry)
• “Coos and goos” and produce lots of vowel like sounds.
• After 3-4 months you will begin to hear your baby babbling (using sounds such as “p”, “b”, “m”, “w”)
• Laugh
• Respond to changes in the tone of your voice

7months-1 year

This is an important and fun time for your baby’s language development. You will notice your baby listens to you; enjoys playing games such as peek-a-boo or pat-a-cake and loves exploring his/her environment. Your baby will also:

• Turn and look in the direction of sounds
• Understand simple and meaningful words such as “mummy”; “cup”; “bottle”
• Babble which sounds even more “speech like” with your baby using long and short groups of sounds
• Look at toys or people with others. This is called shared attention or joint attention.
• Copy other people’s actions such as waving and clapping
• Take turns making sounds
• Try to copy other people’s sounds
• Understand “yes” and “no”
• Use gesture to communicate such as holding their arms up to be picked up
• Understand simple requests (eg. “Give it to daddy”; “Come here”)
• May have one or two words by the age of 12 months (eg; “dada”; “dog”; “mumma”)

1-2 years

Your little baby is becoming a real little person! During the ages of one and two years, you will see your toddler develop more meaningful communication as their vocabulary takes off. You also might find that they want to hear the same story or play the same game over and over again!!!! Your toddler will also:

• Point to pictures in a book when you say the names
• Turn pages in books
• Know some of their body parts and point to them when you name them
• Follow some simple commands such as “Push the train”
• Understand simple questions such as “Where’s the ball?”
• Learn new words frequently such as “more”; “car”; “uh-oh”; “up”
• Use more sounds in their words making their speech clearer
• Begin to put two words together such as “more juice”
• Use simple questions such as “Where daddy?”
• By the age of 2 years have a vocabulary between 50-200 words

2-3 years

Your toddler is growing up so fast and most probably testing the boundaries. This is the time when you will see their own little personalities shine through as they make their preference for certain activities; foods and people well and truly known. Their vocabulary is most likely exploding! Your child will also:

• Understand two stage commands such as “Get your toys and put them in your room”
• Follow instructions with three key words such as “point to the dog, ball and duck”
• Understand and talk about adjectives (describing words) such as “colours”; “shapes”; “size”; positional words, “in, on, under”
• Have a word for nearly everything
• Use these words to draw your attention to something or to a situation
• Consistently combine two, three even up to five words together
• Use joining words such as “and” to link their sentences
• Use even more sounds to make their speech clearer such as “k”, “g”, “f”, “n”
• Have a very simple conversation
• By the age of 3 years be understood by most familiar listeners

If you are at all concerned about your child’s speech and language development, talk to your Maternal and child Health nurse and/or your General Practitioner who will be able to refer you for a speech and language consultation.

Coming soon to Go Ask Mum: Language Developmental Milestones 4-6 years.

Additional Information other than writer’s experience sourced from:
Bowen, C (1998) Ages and Stages Summary-Language Development 0-5 years. Retrieved from htpp://www.speech-language-therapy.com/ on 01.05.2014
For further information contact: www.speechpathologyaustralia.org.au

Kath Keiper is the co-creator of three beautiful children who while driving her crazy, make her laugh everyday. Having been a paediatric speech pathologist for over 15 years, Kath has also spent her life dedicated to helping children and families. Through her career Kath has been fortunate to speak at varying events such as the World Autism Congress and Speech Pathology Australia. Being able to make a positive difference in many children and families lives has always been Kath’s highlight. Her love of helping children, making a difference and performing, have also been the driving force behind the creation of her first DVD for children “Can you sound like me?”
Visit www.chewchewchatter.com.au

Language development

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