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Important Milestones in LanguageDevelopment

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The development of language is perhaps one of the most astounding things to observe. The remarkable change from uttering just a few nonsense sounds and gurgles to speaking in full-blown, complex sentences happens with unbelievable speed. Even before children can say their first words, they are already capable of understanding a great deal of language.

Children go through a number of distinct stages of language development. The earliest form of language involves making babbling sounds, which eventually progresses to the single word stage. From there, children soon begin putting two words together and eventually move on to the multi-word stage.

The following are just some of the developmental milestones that children usually reach as they develop language and communication skills.

From Birth to 3 Months

It may seem surprising that language development begins immediately after birth. Over the course of the first year of a child's life, they are able to distinguish all of the sounds of speech that occur in language. During the first three months of life, most infants are beginning to:

  • Listen to sounds and respond by looking at the speaker
  • Tell the difference between parents and other people's voices
  • Respond to changes in volume and tone
  • React differently to their native language versus a non-native language
  • Communicate by crying, laughing, and babbling
  • Begin trying to imitate sounds

From 3 to 6 Months

While babies cannot yet talk, this does not mean that they are not communicating. These early "conversations" rely on sounds, gestures, eye gaze and facial expressions and help set the stage for later language development. From the age of three to six months, most infants are beginning to:

  • Imitate simple vowel and consonant sounds
  • Exchange facial expressions with caregivers, such as smiling when a parent smiles
  • Listen to the conversations of others

From 6 to 9 Months

During this stage, parents often notice that their child is becoming increasingly vocal. In addition to babbling, many children begin to say their first words such as "mama," "dada," and "bye." Between the ages of six to nine months, most children begin to:

  • Make repetitive babbling sounds
  • Use vocal and nonverbal signals to communicate with others
  • Utilize gestures in association with simple words, such as waving and saying "bye"

From 9 to 12 Months

As children approach one year of age, their capacity for language increases dramatically. While kids may only be able to produce a few words at this point, it is important to remember that they can comprehend far more. In fact, researchers have found that babies begin to understand language about twice as fast as they learn to actually speak. Children between the ages of nine and 12 months can typically:

  • Understand the names of many people and objects
  • Use body language and facial expressions to show how they feel
  • Halt their actions when someone says "No"
  • Say a few simple words

From 1 to 2 Years

During the first year, the use of language begins to grow considerably. Developmental researchers often refer to this period as the two-word stage because most kids begin to use simple, two-word sentences. Starting around the age of 18 months, children begin to learn estimated 9 to 10 new words each day. At one year of age, most children start to:

  • Understand basic commands such as "Eat your cereal"
  • Use "mine" to indicate possession of objects
  • Have a vocabulary that includes several words that are spoken clearly
  • Often use other words that are less clearly spoken and only family members can understand
  • Start to string together simple words in order to describe things or events

From 2 to 3 Years

During the second year, children begin to use language in more complex ways. By the age of 24 months, approximately half of all a child's utterances are at least two words long. During this period of development, children also:

  • Have specific words to describe most things
  • Are understood by family members
  • Begins using adverbs and adjectives
  • Use two to three word sentences
  • Can describe what happened during the day

From 3 to 4 Years

At age three, children begin to develop more advanced language and communication skills. Most people outside the family are able to understand what the child is saying at this point and the child can carry on conversations using two to three sentences at a time. Other abilities that begin to emerge include:

  • Can understand and use sentences
  • Begins using the past tense and plurals
  • Able to follow a series of two to four directions
  • Can understand and use sentences that utilize time ("I'm going to the zoo tomorrow.")
  • Learn and sing songs

From 4 to 5 Years

Between the ages of four and five, children become increasingly skilled at conversing. Not only are they able to talk about cause-and-effect, they are also able to use and understand different comparative language such as fast, faster, and fastest. Some other communication milestones that are achieved during this time period include:

  • Able to follow a string of up to three unrelated instructions
  • Enjoys listening to longer stories and can remember them with some accuracy
  • Uses sentences that average around four to five words
  • Can combine various thoughts into a single sentence
  • Asks questions about how, when, and why things happen
  • Can talk about imaginary or future things ("I with that?" or "I hope that?")

Remember, all developmental milestones serve as a basic outline for development. All children learn and develop at a different pace. If, however, your child is failing to achieve certain milestones and does not seem to be developing at the expected rate, consider contacting your health-care professional about getting an evaluation.

Next: Learn more about early childhood development by exploring these physical milestones, cognitive milestones, and social/emotional milestones.


Learning Disabilities Association of America (1999). Speech and language milestone chart. Retrieved from http://www.ldonline.org/article/6313

Communication skills. (n.d.). The Whole Child. Retrieved fromhttp://www.pbs.org/wholechild/abc/communication.html

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