1. Children’s language development progresses in distinct stages during the first few years.
2. Babies start with vowel and guttural sounds, then focus on tones and facial expressions.
3. Around their first birthday, they understand simple words and use gibberish for communication.
4. By age 3, children can engage in detailed conversations with improved grammar.
During their first years, you’ll be amazed at how your little one goes from babbling to knowing how to participate in conversations. We’ve put together a talking timeline of what you can expect of your little one’s language development during this exciting time. This will give you a general idea of their progress.
Remember every baby is different and develops at their own pace. It’s perfectly normal if your little one reaches these stages a little early or a little late.
Baby’s and children’s language development
Birth to 3 months
These first months are all about your baby’s sounds and gestures. You’ll hear them make vowel and guttural sounds to express themselves. They’ll start experimenting with moving their arms, so you might see them shake them if something catches their attention. During these months pay attention to their facial expressions. Through them, they’ll let you know if they like or dislike something.
During this time your little one will pay more attention to the sounds and voices they hear. At first, they’ll be most interested in the tone of your voice and they’ll start playing with the tone of their babbles as well. This is why when they’re crying and hear your soothing voice, they’ll calm down knowing you are there to comfort them. Continue paying attention to their facial expressions, because they’ll let you know their likes and dislikes. They’ll become much more responsive to the sounds you make, and they’ll try to follow your lead. Try to introduce simple syllables and words; they’ll start making repeated syllable sounds.
Even though you’ve been having conversations with them since they were born, your baby can now understand more than you think, so your conversations will take on new significance. They’ll start babbling while you talk; simulating a conversation. They’ll also start asking for help with their babbles and gestures. By the end of their first year, they’ll be pointing at the objects they want and imitating words you say. They’ll say “mama” and “dada” to refer to their parents and they’ll turn to familiar objects when they are named.
Remember that for your child a “word” is any sound that consistently refers to the same person, object, or event. So, as your little one tries to imitate syllables and understand word phrases, you might hear “mog” every time she wants milk. You should treat “mog” as a legitimate word, but reply with “milk”. Eventually, they’ll make the correction themselves. Around their first birthday, their words will consist of a sort of gibberish that has the variations of understandable speech. So, as long as they’re experimenting with sounds that vary in intensity, pitch, and quality, they’re getting ready to talk.
During these months your little one will start answering your questions by changing their behavior, gestures, or words. They’ll be able to point to “Mom” and “Dad” and familiar objects when they hear their name. They’ll have lots of fun playing with you and pointing to animal images and imitating their sounds. They’ll start growing their repertoire of words with meaning.
Around these months you’ll see their language development grow exponentially. They’ll know the names of foods and body parts. They’ll now be able to name a few of the familiar objects you play with and make simple one-word statements about what you recently did. They’ll repeat the words they hear in your conversations and start using one word to express a whole thought like “park” to let you know they want to go to the park.
By now they’ll be able to understand almost everything you say. They’ll be able to say the correct name when referring to common objects and start using possessive words, so the word “mine” might come up a lot. They’ll start combining nouns and verbs like “mommy go” to express that they want you to come. They’ll also be able to answer simple who, what, and where questions. At first, they’ll make their own version of a whole sentence by combining a single word with a gesture or grunt. They might point and say “ball”. That will be their way of telling you they want you to give them the toy. They might shape a question by saying “Out?” or “Up?”, raising their voice at the end. You’ll hear that their pronunciation improves and they’ll start describing an object’s characteristics with simple words like “red”. “Dada” might finally come out as “Daddy”.
By this time, they’ll be able to comprehend a series of events; thus, they’ll answer simple questions about the stories you’ve read together. They’ll be able to explain their drawings and share their meaning with you. In addition to talking about their immediate experiences, they’ll now be able to tell you about events and people they encountered during the day. You’ll be able to carry out longer and more meaningful conversations with them.
Around this time, you’ll stop being the only one that can understand your little one when they speak. They’ll be so clear when expressing their ideas that strangers will be able to understand them as well. They’ll tell stories and learn more about the grammar rules of language. Their sentences will become more complex as they choose the right verbs, nouns, or pronouns to arrange in the correct order. You’ll have quite the conversationalist in your hands!
Remember that the best way to support their language development is through meaningful interactions. Read about this at: The influence of attention and caregiver input on language development.
You can also check how to encourage your child’s language development here.