Speech/Language Development


Do you ever wonder if your child’s language abilities are at age level? Do you compare your child’s speech with that of other children?

Here are a few things to ask yourself:

Is my baby vocalizing and babbling? Babies should be playing with their voices and sounds. Babies from three to six months should be “cooing,” which is vocalizing mostly vowel sounds. Babies begin “babbling” at around six months. Typical babbling sounds are, “mamama,” “baba,” “dada,” “gagaga,” etc. It is said that babies under a year old play with all the possible sounds of every language and that after a year of age, the ability to produce and even to hear sounds that are not used in the native language is gradually lost. (Isn’t that cool?)  Around a year of age, most babies are using “jargon,” sentence-like intonations. It may sound as if your child is jabbering away in another language! If a baby doesn’t babble and vocalize, or if he stops vocalizing, this could be a sign of hearing loss.

Does my baby make eye contact? Does he try to imitate sounds or facial expressions? Is he learning turn taking? (He babbles, mom babbles back or says something, he babbles again.) Even passing a toy back and forth is a precursor of conversational skills. Children actually begin to learn these early conversational skills well before they are using actual language.

Does my baby or toddler communicate his needs? Even before babies are using actual language, they should communicate by vocalizing and pointing.

Does my toddler follow simple commands? By one year of age, babies should respond to “no”  and their own names, and should give an object on request. By eighteen months, children should be able to point to one to three body parts and follow simple one-step commands.

Does my child have an age-appropriate vocabulary? Babies usually produce their first few words around one year of age. The average vocabulary of an eighteen-month-old is 50 words.  By twenty-four months, a child’s expressive vocabulary averages about 200 words. Children vary in their development, but if your child is more than six months behind these norms, there may be cause for concern.

Is my toddler putting words together into sentences? Toddlers typically begin using two-word phrases at about eighteen months. If a child is not doing this by age two, he may be considered delayed in language skills. The typical child  is producing three to four-word sentences at  twenty-four months.

If you have any concerns about your child’s language development, please consult a speech pathologist. Children develop at different rates, and your child may be completely normal, but it is very important to catch potential problems early, since language disorders can impact socialization and future educational performance. Often, public schools will even provide free services for preschoolers.

Although, as I have said before, children do develop at different rates and sequences, some sounds are easier to produce and are usually mastered at earlier ages. The sounds labial (lip) sounds, p, b, and m, are probably the easiest. N, t, and d are also easy sounds that most children master very early. Think of a child’s first words….mama, dada, ball (without the “l”). Other early words often have these sounds substituted for more difficult sounds: “tat” for “cat,” or “du” for “juice.”

By age 3, most children have mastered m, p, b, and n.  By 3 1/2, they are also correctly producing t, d, k, g, w, y, and ng in their speech. To see more detailed information on speech and language development at various ages, visit these links:

Articulation Sounds Chart

Speech and Language Development Chart

In their first year, well before they say their first real words, babies babble many different sounds  as they experiment with their voices. Supposedly, babies actually produce and experiment with ALL of the sounds, including those not in their native languages. As they mature, immersed in their native language, they start limiting themselves to only the sounds that they hear and eventually lose the ability to even hear many sounds in other languages. When I was visiting in Korea, I would try to imitate a word, to be told repeatedly, “No!”  And they would say the word again. I thought was repeating the word I was hearing! Apparently not! You are probably aware that Asians often confuse the sounds “l” and “r.” That sound is the same in their languages and they actually cannot hear the difference.

This is why, if you want your child to speak fluently and without an accent in a second language, he must be exposed to it very young in life.

Toddlers vary widely in their language skills. Some speak in complete sentences while others are still using single words. Much of the variation is simply due to temperament and individual development, but a child’s environment and adult stimulation can help these skills along. Here a some ideas to use with normal-developing toddlers and with older children who have delayed language skills:

-Call out action words for the child to follow: sit, jump, kneel, walk, stop…

-Sing action songs with your child–”Where is Thumbkin?”, “Ring Around the Rosie,” “London Bridge,” “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” and so on. A favorite of my children was “Wheels on the Bus.” I know I sang it hundreds of times with them! I am a big fan of incorporating music and language.

-Play hide and seek with objects. Let the child see you hide the object, then ask, “Where is ___?” and have him find it. Then hide the object without the child watching, but leave it partly exposed. This will help him become familiar with new vocabulary.

-Make scrapbooks of different types of items–food, animals, action words, and so on, cutting pictures from magazines. Pages could also be made for adjectives–cold, smooth, pretty, etc. Older children can help with the cutting and/or gluing.

-Have the child follow two-part commands. “Turn around, then clap your hands.” “Run to the kitchen and pick up a spoon.” Then work up to three-part commands.

-Spread picture cards showing different categories across the table. Ask your child to “find all the things we eat” or “find all the animals.”

-Require the child to use his best language when he wants something. “More.” “Cookie, please.” or “I want to read a story.”

-Expand upon the child’s utterances. If he says, “cookie,” say “Want cookie, please.” Just hearing the expanded form of his phrase will encourage him to expand it next time.

-Teach body parts and pronouns by naming, “my nose,” “your nose,” and so on.  Ask, “Whose neck is this?’ Model the correct answer if this is difficult for the child.

-Talk to your child! Explain what you are doing. Explain his world to him. Have him help you with simple chores while you talk. Ask him questions.

Do you ever wonder if your child’s speech skills are normal? We don’t expect a three year old to have perfect speech, but we do expect it from a ten year old. Here are a few questions to help you figure out whether your child is developing articulation skills at a normal pace or whether you should be concerned. These are just general guidelines. If you have concerns, you may want to have your child evaluated by a speech pathologist, who might suggest therapy or assure you that your child is developing normally. My book, Super Star Speech: Speech Therapy Made Simple also contains a simple articulation test that assesses each sound.

Can my three-year-old be understood by people outside the family? Three year olds have usually not mastered all of the speech sounds yet, but strangers should be able to understand much of what they say. It can be very frustrating for a child when others cannot understand his speech.

Is my 5-year old easy to understand? 5-year olds may still have 3 or 4 “tough sounds,” but they should not be interfering significantly with his intelligibility at this point.

What do others say about my child’s speech? Often parents are so accustomed to their children’s speech patterns that they do not even notice that little Johnny says “th” instead of “s” or leaves “r” off the ends of his words. I have met 10 or 12 year olds whose parents seem not to notice that their children have difficulty with some sounds even though everyone else does notice!

This is a list of the approximate ages at which children should have mastered different sounds. Of course all children develop differently and may not master sounds in this exact order. There are also other factors that a speech-language-pathologist would consider in determining whether a child’s speech patterns are within normal limits or delayed. For example substituting “th” for “s” at age 6 is normal, but omitting “s” entirely or substituting “t” for “s” would be a concern (and impacts intelligibility much more).

Articulation Sounds-Age Chart
Age 3 —— p, b, n, m
Age 3 ½— t, d, k, g, ng, w, y
Age 4—— f, v
Age 5—— l
Age 6—— ch, sh, j, th
Age 7 —— s, z, r, blends

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