Stages of Oral Language Development

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will learn about the stages of oral language development in which children grow from infants who are unable to communicate to school-aged children who have become fluent in language.

Developing Communication Skills

What have you accomplished in the past eight years? For anyone, a lot can change during an eight-year period, but no transformation is as profound as the one that takes place from infancy through elementary school in terms of development. During a relatively short amount of time, babies go from being helpless and unable to communicate to developing fluency in language. Let's look at the stages of oral language development in children.

Pre-Linguistic Development

During the first year of life, children are in the pre-linguistic stage of oral development. For about the first half of this stage, children utter random sounds that don't necessarily follow any distinct pattern, but in the second half of the first year, children begin to babble. Infants are able to communicate with their caregivers through pointing, waving, and variations in crying. They are also able to imitate conversation by using melody, intonation, and stress. By the end of this stage, infants are beginning to understand some language.

One Word Stage

Between the ages of one and two years, the child enters the one word stage of oral development. During this time, toddlers are able to identify people and things by name. Children in this stage are just learning to use words as a communication tool. To the dismay of their caregivers, one of their favorite words is probably 'no.' Children understand a great deal more language than they are able to produce.

Combinatory Speech

Before a toddler's second birthday, the child enters the combinatory speech phase of oral development. During this period, the child is beginning to put words together. At first, the child will create phrases, but will soon begin to speak in complete three-four word sentences. The child can ask and answer simple questions and demonstrate some degree of fluency in speech. By the child's fourth birthday, they are able to use some pronouns, prepositions, plurals, and tense.


By the time the child enters school, the child has a pretty strong sense of the way language works, but will continue to develop oral language skills at a rapid rate for the next several years. During preschool through first grade, the child will learn to use possessives, answer more complex questions, follow directions, and tell jokes. In about second grade, the child will begin to use vocabulary acquired during independent reading. Speech becomes more precise, and students become more proficient in language use for the next several years.

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