Children express themselves from the moment they are born, and over time their communication takes on more sophisticated forms. To crying they add gesturing and babbling, and eventually they begin to talk. Language development involves a child learning words and being able to speak clearly, skills that allow them to express themselves and understand the speech of others. Children begin speaking at around their first birthday, and they learn words more rapidly throughout their second year. Identifying language delays early on is vital to helping children prepare for school and ensuring they receive any necessary educational supports. Delays in this area of development may indicate certain health conditions, including autism spectrum disorders, mental retardation, hearing loss, communication disorders, learning disorders, and Down syndrome.
Development varies among children, and every child will gain abilities related to language and speech at their own speed. The milestones listed below indicate the average time at which children gain important language skills, but a missed milestone may only be a temporary delay and not an indication of health concerns. A child who is consistently delayed or experiences delays in multiple milestones may have a developmental problem, and parents should speak to their child’s pediatrician in these instances or if they have any questions.
Language and Speech Milestones:
3 months - The child begins to babble, starts imitating some sounds.
7 months - The child babbles, reacts to his name, starts responding to “no,” can differentiate emotions through tone of voice, makes noise in response to a sound, can express joy and displeasure through sound.
1 year - The child pays more attention to language, begins responding to simple verbal requests, will respond to “no,” begins using simple gestures (shaking head to mean “no”), babbles using different tones, can say “mama” and “dada,” uses some exclamations (“uh-oh!”), attempts to imitate words.
2 year - The child can point to an object that has been named, remembers the names of familiar people and objects, speaks several single words by 15-18 months, can say some simple phrases by 18-24 months, speaks sentences using 2 to 4 words, is able to follow simple instructions, can repeat overheard words.
3 years - The child can complete two- and three-part commands, can point out almost all common objects, understands what most sentences mean, understands the concept of placement within space (“in,” “on,” “under”), makes sentences using four to five words, can describe aspects of his identify (name, age, sex), uses pronouns and some plurals, is understood by most strangers.
4 years - The child understands basic grammatical rules, uses five or six words in sentences, is understood by strangers, engages in story-telling.
5 years - The child can remember parts of a story, uses more than five words in sentences, can use the future tense, can tell longer stories, knows his name and address.
Possible Signs of Language and Speech Delays:
3 months - The child does not babble by 3 to 4 months, has started babbling but does not imitate any of his parents’ sounds by 4 months.
7 months - The child does not laugh or make squealing sounds by 6 months, does not babble by 8 months.
1 year - The child does not say single words (“Mama” or “Dada”), has not learned to use gestures (waving, shaking head), does not point to objects or pictures.
2 years -The child speaks fewer than 15 words, does not form sentences with at least two words, does not understand the functions of common household objects by 15 months, does not complete simple requests.
3 years - The child drools persistently or has very unclear speech, does not use small phrases to communicate, does not understand simple instructions.
4 years - The child does not create sentences using more than three words, uses the words “you” and “me” incorrectly.
5 years - The child cannot correctly give his first and last name, uses plurals or past tense incorrectly, does not speak about his daily experiences.