Child Language Development Milestones

Instructor: Karin Gonzalez

Karin has taught middle and high school Health and has a master's degree in social work.

A baby's first few years are paramount in the establishment of speech and language. Every parent wants to be sure their child is developing on point. In this lesson, you will learn the major child language development milestones that children should hit in the first six years of their lives.

We often refer to a baby or toddler's brain as a sponge because it quickly soaks in information. When a child is between zero to three years of age, brain cells are multiplying and the brain is developing at a relatively fast pace. Language development accelerates quickly during this time.

Definitions of Speech and Language

Speech is the verbal articulation of sounds to express thoughts or feelings. Language is a system of words or signs that people use to communicate. The language that this lesson is written in is English, of course. If a person is deaf, he/she must learn another form of language such as American Sign Language.

The Onset of Language Development

Some may think that a baby begins to communicate when he utters his first words, such as 'mama'' or 'dada.' Newborn babies, however, communicate by crying when they are uncomfortable, tired, and cold or cooing when they are happy.

Babies cry to express their feelings and needs until they can sign or form words to communicate.
baby crying.

It is important to note that children vary in language development just like they vary with motor and cognitive development. Research tells us, though, that most follow a similar pattern of progression with language development. Hence, the establishment of child language milestones.

Child Language Milestones

When Dr. Cohen learned that Mary's 18-month-old son, Dylan, was still babbling and not using any words, he referred Mary to a pediatric speech pathologist. Dr. Cohen is well-versed in child language milestones and knows that children this age should be speaking 10 to 50 words. The following are child language milestones from birth to six years.

Birth to Three Months

A baby who is three months old can usually:

  • Make 'cooing' sounds, such as a soft murmuring sound indicating pleasure.
  • Smile, showing comfort and acknowledgement of his or her caregiver's voice.
  • Cry differently indicating separate needs (e.g. hunger, exhaustion, boredom, etc.)
  • Respond to loud noises.
  • Stop feeding or sucking in response to sound.

Four to Six Months

A baby who is six months old can usually:

  • Gurgle or babble when playing.
  • Move her eyes to the direction of sound.
  • Show awareness and attentiveness to music.
  • Note differences in the feeling behind someone's voice (i.e. calm, angry, anxious, happy).
  • Recognize that some toys create sounds.
  • Make eye contact with something or someone making sound.
  • Produce sounds, especially ones that begin with the letters ' 'p, b,' ' and ' 'm.' '
  • Giggle or laugh.

Seven Months to One Year

A baby or toddler who is one year old can usually:

  • Attempt imitating others speech.
  • Say a few words, like ' 'mama, dada, up,' ' or the name of the family dog. It is normal for a child to have the ability to say three or more words besides ' 'mama' ' and ' 'dada' ' by the time they turn one.
  • Understand basic instruction, such as ' 'come here.' '
  • Understand basic words, such as ' 'milk, nap,' ' or ' 'book.' '
  • Respond to and recognize her name.
  • Take delight in games like peek-a-boo.
  • Turn, crawl, or walk in the direction of a sound
  • Listen (i.e. turning head, eye contact) when being spoken to.

One to Two Years

A toddler who is two years old can usually:

  • Use basic two- or three-word phrases or questions, such as ' 'more water,' ' or ' 'all gone?' '
  • Utilize a 50-word vocabulary, including names.
  • Understand ' 'no!' '
  • Make animal sounds.
  • Respond to body part questions, such as ' 'Where are your toes?' ' by pointing to her toes.
  • Retrieve items when asked.
  • Take delight in books, rhymes, and songs.

Two to Three Years

Children who are three years old can usually:

  • Identify most of their body parts.
  • Engage in conversation with themselves, their dolls, or with people.
  • Ask lots of ' 'who, what, when, where, how' ' questions.
  • Utilize a 450-word vocabulary.
  • Utter two-word phrases beginning with ' 'no,' ' such as ' 'no nap.' '
  • Make some words plural.
  • Say her first name when asked.
  • Hold up fingers to indicate age.
  • Attempt to make sentences by combining a subject with a verb, such as ' 'daddy come.' '
  • Utilize basic time references, such as ' 'yesterday' ' or ' 'tomorrow.' '
  • Talk out solutions to problems rather than crying or biting.
  • Know one or two opposites, such as ' 'big' ' and ' 'little.' '
  • Match three colors.
  • Be understood by family and close friends.
  • Make up a word or nickname for something if it is not in her vocabulary.
  • Recite three- to four-word sentences.
  • Use ' 'k, g, f, t, d,' ' and ' 'n' ' sounds.

Reading books is a vital component for healthy language development for young children.
Child reading.

Three to Four Years

A child who is four years old can usually:

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