The first three years of life are considered to be a critical period for language development. Children are especially prewired during this time of life to absorb and learn from the language models they hear in their environment. It is a rapid growth period for communication development and never again in life will a person learn so much about language in such a short time. Within three years, children grow from beings whose main language is crying to little persons who can debate with their parents!
Language development in the first three years can be divided in three stages.
Precursors to Language: 0-11 months
During this time, your baby communicates constantly, but not with words. The ability to communicate develops sequentially; and more advanced skills build onto a foundation of earlier skills, just as motor development does. These precursors need to be in place before children can say their first words. Language development milestones in the first year include:
From Babbling to Words: 12-21 months
Around a year old, the magical moment occurs when your child says her first word. The language precursors laid the foundation, and now the time is here to start using real words. During the next six months, you can expect the following language development milestones:
From Words to Sentences: 24-36 months
During this time, your child starts to string words together into sentences, and speech intelligibility increases. By the end of this phase, your child will be able to relate short stories or tell briefly what she experienced. Language milestones during this phase include:
Remember that the age brackets of these stages are approximate. Some children are natural talkers and speak more and sooner than others. You can consider professional help if language milestones are three to six months, or more, delayed in an otherwise healthy child. Also, make sure that your child’s hearing is professionally examined before the age of two, whether or not a speech and language delay is present.