Language Development Milestones for 0-3 Years Old Child

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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:


Language Development Milestones

From birth

Eye contact and visual preference for faces
Differentiated crying – has different cries for different needs
Shows preference for mother’s voice

4-6 weeks

First smile

7-9 weeks

First vocalizations of vowel-like sounds

3-6 months

Vocalizes to caregiver’s smile and talk
Makes throaty consonant sounds (h, k, g)

6-9 months

Locates source of sound
Babbles to gain attention and uses more consonants (f,v,s,z, m,n)

9-11 months

Imitates tongue clicks and kisses
Babbles two syllables (da-da, mi-mi)
Understands and carries out simple commands


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:


Language Development Milestones

12-15 months

Uses one or two common words meaningfully
Understands key words in familiar situations

15-18 months

Babbles short sentences with inflection
Points to familiar persons, animals, or toys on request

18-21 months

Uses 6-20 recognizable words
Points to own nose, eye, mouth, and hair


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:


Language Development Milestones

21-24 months

Understands simple explanations, like: “First eat your food, and then you can have some juice.’”
Start using two-word sentences, like: “Daddy bye-bye.”

24-27 months

Will follow a short series of related commands. 
Start using three-word sentences, like “Mommy book read?”

27-30 months

Enjoys hearing stories about familiar people and experiences
Gives name upon request

30-33 months

Can name the use of an object
Enjoys being read to from picture books

33-36 months

Points to six body parts
Uses 200 or more words, but speech sounds may still not be pronounced correctly and grammar errors are common.

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.

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