What Is Normal Language Development?
by Mommy MD Guide Stacey Weiland, MD
Once we as parents establish that our child is healthy, our next worry relates to our child’s normal development.
We carefully examine the pediatrician’s growth charts, exclaim with joy at the first smile, and call the grandparents when our child takes her first step.
Of course there is a broad spectrum of normal. In the case of my own three children, for example, first steps were taken at 11, 12, and 14 months.
Language development also represents a series of major milestones. And again, although there’s still a definite spectrum of normal, it’s reasonable for parents to have a general idea of when certain language gains should appear, in order to look into possible interventions, if necessary.
Most children begin vocalizations with “babbling.” This occurs at around four to six months of age. They tend to make many repetitive sounds, like “baba,” “mama,” and “dada.” Interestingly, these first sounds are consistent no matter what language is spoken in the home.
By 7 to 12 months, many children are able to form a few one- and two-syllable words, such as “no” or “car” and can ask for each parent by name with “mama” and “dada.”
At 12 to 15 months, children produce many different sounds in their language attempts and imitate sounds said to them by family members. They can also understand and follow simple one-step directions: “Give me the toy.”
By the age of two, children can have up to 50 words in their repertoire and start to put simple words together: “Want cookie.” They can name body parts and familiar objects. They can also follow two-step commands. Their diction may not always be intelligible, particularly to people who aren’t with them regularly. I distinctly remember having to interpret what my children were trying to say when my mother was visiting from out of town.
There is no definite cause for alarm if your child is not verbalizing this much by age two, because some children are better able to communicate their needs through gestures.
Between the ages of two and three, parents often witness a major expansion in their child’s speech. They begin to form simple sentences, can identify colors, and understand descriptive concepts (big versus little). Parents and regular caregivers should understand about 75 percent of their child’s speech by age three.
Is there anything that we as parents can do to enhance our child’s language development? Well, as you might imagine, the best way for a child to learn to speak is to hear speech around them. There is actually data for this. Many studies have demonstrated that children who are spoken to the most develop the greatest “lexical diversity,” have the broadest receptive and expressive vocabularies, and the quickest cognitive development compared with those children who were spoken to the least.
So, in the absence of an underlying language disorder, good parenting is the key to creating a well-spoken child. Spend time with your child. Read to her, play with her, and involve her in whatever you’re doing!