“She’s hungry.” “He wants his diaper changed.” Ever thought about how babies communicate so much information when they can’t even talk? A baby’s first form of communication is crying. And, oh what a repertoire of cries babies come up with! The ear-splitting scream, the jackhammer staccato, the meandering, sing-song whimper. As a baby develops his language and speech skills during his first two years, there are several language and developmental milestones to watch for. By age five, a child should be able to make simple sentences and retell a story in his own words. One of the most critical factors in your baby’s language development is his ability and opportunity to listen to people talking.
Baby language and speech development
Babies soak up language sounds and structures around them. According to Baby Center, “[l]inguists say babies as young as 4 weeks can distinguish between similar syllables, such as ‘ma’ and ‘na.'” Baby Center notes these milestones for baby language development:
At between 4 to 6 months old, most babies start their delightful babbling. Soon babbling will turn to monologues, with baby holding forth on a whole host of serious and humorous “subjects,” sometimes at great length and with great authority.
Later, at between 7 to 12 months, your baby, though still babbling, starts to sound as though he actually is making sense! He’s not using words yet, but he may certainly try out all kinds of inflections, dramatic pauses, facial expressions and hand (and feet) gestures to get his “point” across. At this time, baby babbling sounds the same in all languages, all around the world!
Video: Baby Talking – This video is a great example of babbling that includes structure, inflection, eye contact, communicative facial expressions and hand and feet gestures.
Between 13 to 18 months, a child usually knows several words and uses at least one word. In the next stage of language development, between 19 and 24 months, a child may understand up to 200 words and use between 40-50 words in phrases and even simple sentences.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, by the age of 2, a “toddler should be able to speak in two- to -three-word sentences. She should be able to follow simple instructions and repeat words heard in conversation.”
Late Talkers and Expressive and Receptive Language Skills
In general, a child may be considered a late talker if he is not speaking clearly around age 4. (Children at this age do mispronounce many of the words they use.) Diane Paul-Brown, a speech-language pathologist at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), says if a child hasn’t reached this language milestone by age 4, in “the majority of cases, . . . there’s no need for alarm. Most children develop language at their own pace, and there is a broad range of normal.”
One way speech pathologists evaluate the cause of late talking is to evaluate the child’s expressive and receptive language skills. “Expressive” language skills refer to a person’s ability to speak words and communicate ideas through them. “Receptive” language skills refer to a person’s ability to understand words and grasp what they communicate. A late talking child often lags in expressive, but not receptive language. In other words, the child does not speak much, but does understand much of what is being said.
In evaluating whether a child is simply a late talker, or has a true developmental delay, Paul-Brown states that there is less reason for concern when “a child is not using a lot of words but seems to comprehend what you’re saying and can follow commands.” According to Paul-Brown, a lag in receptive language, that is, in understanding what is said, is “a useful predictor to differentiate late talkers from those children with developmental delays.”
Listening is key to baby’s language skills
Researchers have pointed to several factors that may cause late talking in children. An increase in chronic ear infections, as well as environmental exposure to various compounds and pollutants, may impact language development and cause children to hit developmental milestones later than they otherwise would. One key to fostering language skills and speech development, however, may be as simple as giving your child the opportunity to really listen to the spoken word.
Listening is a major learning experience. This fact hold true for babies as well. Research, cited in Quiet, the Baby is Learning to Talk!, shows that household and other background noise can put a damper on language learning, as well as on the verbal skills of children, including infants. Noise can even affect reading skills. When babies have to deal with significant background noise, they simply “have a harder time picking out words, catching verbal inflections, following the cadence of speech, watching the speaker, and realizing the meaning of what is said.”
Although silence may be golden, quiet, of course, is not necessarily the same as silence. A helpful way to think of quiet is as “an acoustically calm environment.” In this sense, quiet is essential to giving your baby good opportunities to really listen to, and interact with, conversation and the spoken word around him. Listening, and thus being exposed to new and “rare” words, is the major way a child learns and develops his vocabulary.
After giving your baby good opportunities to listen, by quieting down background noise, for example, then you can provide good things to listen to. Babies and toddlers, like all people, enjoy warm conversation, sweet talk and a good book. In addition to reading to your baby, parents can expand a child’s listening opportunities with audio books and downloadable stories as well. Many audio works are available free on the internet (Use Free Audio Books and Downloadable Stories to Increase Your Child’s Language Skills).
Late Talkers: Baby Language and Developmental Milestones
There is a wide range of “normal” when it comes to children and talking. A baby begins to develop his language and speech skills from birth. During his first two to five years, there are several language and developmental milestones to watch for. One key to language development, and speech and vocabulary skills, is the ability and opportunity to listen to people talking. Engaging your child in conversation, reading to him, allowing others to read to him through audio books and stories—all this contributes greatly to your child’s ability to understand verbal communication and express himself with words.
“Developmental Milestone: Talking,” Baby Center.
Richard Trubo, “Helping Your Late-Talking Child,” Medicine Net.
Metacafe, “Baby Talking.”
B. A. Rogers, “Quiet, the Baby is Learning to Talk!,” Associated Content.
B. A. Rogers, “Use Free Audio books and Downloadable Stories to Increase Your Child’s Language Skills,” Associated Content.