Speech and Language Development

As soon as a baby is born, they have a need and a want to communicate.  Seconds after they are born, a child makes their very first communication with their first cry and within 30 minutes your baby will be able to respond to your voice by moving its eyes.  A baby is born to talk and the basics of language are already built into your child’s brain.  It is now known that a deaf child will begin the speech process at the same time as a child with normal hearing.

It is important to realise that all children develop their speech at their own stage and when they are ready. It is important to not compare, and boys are often slower to progress through each stage than girls. Although below is a rough timetable of how a child may progress, many children do so at a faster or a slower pace. The information below is an average and very few children are average.  If at any stage in your child’s development, you are concerned that your child is not at the stage you think he should be at – it is important that you seek advice from your child’s Health Visitor.

In the early weeks and months of your baby’s development, your child is continually learning to communicate.

Newborn: Your baby is born able to cry.  This is the way that your child tells you that he is unhappy and needs you.  If he hears your voice, he is likely to respond with eye movements, body movements and eventually a sound.  This is the first stage of their speech development.

1 – 3 Months: By now, you will probably realise that your baby has different cries.   If he needs a cuddle he may give a low, short cry whereas if he is hungry he may make a loud, long cry or even a scream like cry.  Your baby’s ability to change his sound is the basics of understanding how language works.  Remember to smile and talk to your baby and keep your face close to his – your baby will learn from watching you.  Your baby should start to respond with smiles at around 6 weeks.  He will soon realise that you are pleased to see him smile and will respond.  This will be his first two-way communication.  You baby may even start making some vowel sounds such as ‘eh’ or ‘ah’.

4-6 months: Your baby should now have a few sounds to use.  They should begin to continuously babble and join together both consonant sounds and vowels sounds.  (e.g ba, ya) All babbling sounds at this stage are the same, no matter what language you use around your child.  Your child may even be able to produce mama or dada, however to your child these are just sounds and not words.  You may wake up in the morning to hear your baby ‘talking’ continuously to himself happily.  He may have favourite sounds which he repeats over and over again.

6-9 months: Around this time, your child will begin to understand you.  If you say a firm ‘no’ he may stop and look at you and by 9 months he may carry out simple instructions such as ‘wave bye-bye’.  You can help him by giving clear instructions and clear and obvious examples.  Your child will listen to you as you speak to others and he will begin to understand difference in your tone.  It is important to sing to your baby and to repeat nursery rhymes to him and clapping and rhyming games.  These will all aid your child’s development.

12-18 months: At 12 months, your baby should have one word which he uses with meaning.  Praise him whenever he uses this word and continue to praise with each new word gained, you child will delight in knowing that you are pleased with him.  He should also begin to understand simple words such as bath-time, dinnertime, snack-time, nappy time and may even react to them, for example going to the kitchen for dinner.  During these months he may start to string a few favourite words together, such as ‘oh dear’ or ‘mama up’ and use these phrases in the correct situation – for example when he drops something or when he wants cuddling.  By 18 months, your child may have up to ten words that he uses with meaning; these could be anything including mama, duck and ball.  When reading to him, ask him where the bear or the duck is and he may surprise you by pointing at it.  You may not always understand what your child is trying to say but it is important to always try to understand, stop and listen and to praise your child for trying.

18-24 months: Your child’s speech will continue to improve and is likely to have around 30 words that he is able to use in the correct situations.  He should also be able to string words together to make simple statements or questions, e.g ‘where drink?’  Your child will be learning words everyday so it is important that you are careful what you say.  When you talk to you child, start increasing the length of your sentences.  For example a few months ago you may have said ‘look, dog!’ now you can say ‘look, brown dog’.

2-3 years: Your child will like to hear his own voice.  He has a longer attention span.  He will understand lots of what you say and will carry out single instructions.  He may be able to produce up to 200 words.  Continue to read to your child and when speaking try to use new words.  Your child will be able to use facial expressions to help aid conversation.  He will understand that conversation means ‘taking it in turns’ to speak.

Should I worry?

Remember, this is only an average guideline. However, if your baby stops babbling at around 6 months or is not even attempting to make sounds or not make eye contact with you, it is advisable to see your doctor as your child may have a hearing problem.

We have stated that at 12 months, your child should have one word.  This may happen as early as 9 months although many wait until 14 months to reach this milestone.  However, if your child is 15 months and you cannot recognise or understand a single word, again, it is advisable to contact your doctor your health visitor for advice.

By the age of three, your child should be able to produce ‘good’ words.  If however, he is dropping consonants on a regular basis, such as forgetting the end sound or putting the wrong one in, it is again advisable to speak to your health visitor.  She may wish to do a simple assessment on your child as he may have a speech or hearing problem.

by Jenny, mum to William and James

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