Hearing your child saying his first word is magical. Each child is different and develops this skill at different stages. Girls usually learn to speak earlier than boys, and first-born children often pick up speech quicker than their younger siblings.
The question is: when should you be concerned about your child’s speech?
Generally, children reach their speech and language developmental milestones at approximate ages.You can compare your child’s development to other children her age to know when your child will need help to develop speech.
See table below.
If your child’s understanding, use of language and speech sounds have not developed as well as their peers, you may need to consult a Speech and Language Therapist.
|Age||Understanding||Expression||Sounds to expect|
|0-6 months||Recognises voices.
Localises sound by turning head.
Listens to speech.
|Repeats the same sounds
Frequently coos, gurgles and makes pleasure sounds.
Uses a different cry to express different needs.
Smiles when spoken to.
Uses sounds or gestures to indicate wants.
|p b and m in babbling.|
|7-12 months||Responds to speech by looking at speaker.
Stops ongoing action when told No (when negative is accompanied by appropriate gesture and tone).
Responds to simple requests.
Understands and responds to own name.
Recognises words for common items (e.g. cup, shoe, juice).
|Interacts with others by vocalising after adult.
Communicates meaning through intonation.
Attempts to imitate sounds.
Uses a large variety of sounds in babbling.
Uses speech sounds rather than only crying to get attention.
Begins to change babbling to jargon.
Uses speech intentionally for the first time.
Uses nouns almost exclusively.
Expressive vocabulary of 1 to 3 words.
|p b t d n m|
|1-2 years||Responds correctly when asked “where”, “when” question accompanied by gesture.
Understands prepositions on, in, under.
Follows request to bring familiar object from another room.
Understands simple phrases with key words (e.g. Open the door or Get the ball).
|Says first meaningful word.
Uses single words plus a gesture to ask for objects.
Says successive single words to describe an event.
Refers to self by name.
Uses my or mine to indicate possession.
Vocabulary of 50-100 words.
Starts to combine nouns and verbs.
Is approximately 25-50% intelligible to strangers.
|p b t d n m w and sometimes s and f|
|2-3 years||Points to pictures of common objects when named.
Can identify objects when told their use.
Understands questions what and where.
Understands negatives no, not, can’t, don’t.
Enjoys listening to simple storybooks.
|Joins vocabulary words together in 2-word phrases.
Gives first and last name.
Asks what and where questions.
Makes negative statements (e.g.Can’t open it.)
Shows frustration at not being understood.
Speech is 50-75% intelligible.
Verbalises toilet needs.
Requests items by name.
Expressive vocabulary of 50-250 or more words.
|p b t d n m w and usually s f and z|
|3-4 years||Begins to understand sentences involving time concepts (We are going to the zoo tomorrow).
Understand size comparatives such as big and bigger.
Understands if…then and because sentences.
Carries out a series of 2 to 4 related directions.
Understands Let’s pretend.
|Talks in sentences of 3 or more words.
Tells about past experiences.
Uses plurals and past tense.
Refers to self using I or me.
Repeats at least 1 nursery rhyme and can sing a song.
Speech is understandable to strangers, but there are still some sound errors.80% intelligible.
|4-5 years||Follows 3 unrelated commands in proper order.
Listens to long stories but often misinterprets facts.
Incorporates verbal directions into play activities.
Understands sequencing of events when told them.
|Asks when, how and why questions.
Uses can, will, shall, should, might.
Joins sentences together (e.g. I like chocolate chip cookies and milk).
Talks using because and so.
Tells the content of a story, but confuses facts.
|p b t d n m w s f z g k v l y ch j and sh|
|5-6 years||Demonstrates pre-academic skills.||Obvious differences between child’s grammar and adult’s grammar.
Can take appropriate turns in a conversation.
Gives and receives information.
Communicates well with family, friends or strangers.
|Most sounds.Many children still have difficulty with th and r.|
|6-7 years||Adult speech||Most sounds.|
Practical tips on how to help your child’s speech development
Correcting your child’s speech
- Is it best to correct your child when he makes a grammatical error?
- Should we be making our children say words correctly and point out their errors when they don’t use the right sounds?
We want to help our children talk correctly, but don’t want to end up putting them off talking altogether.
Here are a few points to think about before you decide to correct your child’s speech.
- The most import thing is that your child hears how to say the word correctly. You do not need to correct him as such, only model the correct word.For example, if he says “gog” while pointing at a dog, you can say, “Yes, it’s a dog.”
- It is important to use positive language, like “Yes, you’re right,” with your model of the correct word. If we nag our children about their mistakes, talking will become a nightmare. As a result, they may stop talking to us altogether. So keep them motivated and positive.
- Never correct your child when her error is appropriate for her age group. When your 2½ year old says “Go in tar”, this would be quite normal. Just make sure to say the correct version afterwards with emphasis on the correct word.
- Baby talk sounds very sweet, but don’t be tempted to use your child’s version of words, for example “dindins” for “dinner”, or “moo cow” for “cow”. Your child’s speech won’t mature if he does not hear how it should be done.What may sound sweet at 3 years of age might sound awkward at age 5.
- If your child can say a word correctly, but sometimes forgets to do so, you may be tempted to have her practice it by you showing her how to say it and her repeating the word after you. Some children may enjoy this, but others may not.Take your child’s personality into account and never let a child think she has been bold for not saying a word correctly. A child should never think she is stupid or babyish because of her speech.
- Always make sure your child enjoys talking. If you talk about what your child is interested in, they are more likely to learn that talking can be fun.
Activities to stimulate language development
Walk and Talk
Take a walk around your neighbourhood or out and about and comment on what you see. If your child has problems pronouncing certain sounds, look for things outside with these sounds.
Make a scrapbook page together about your outing. Glue objects or pictures onto the page that you collected, for example a leaf in the park. Write down what you saw on your walk, in short sentences. For example: We saw a big brown dog. His tongue was hanging out. Then I picked up a leaf. It is yellow and brown. This is a picture of our house.
Hide and Seek
Take turns hiding small objects around the house or outside. The person who does the hiding then gives directions to the others to find the object.
Help your child cut out your favourite cartoon characters. Glue them on a piece of paper. Write new things for your characters to say in speech bubbles. Read your new cartoons together.
Sing or say a nursery rhyme together. Then, pause and wait for your child to fill in the next line. Wait a few seconds, then help say the rest of the line together.
Make glove puppets by drawing faces on paper bags and get your child to act out a story with them.
Sit in front of the mirror and practice pulling faces, sticking out your tongues and making funny noises.
Look in the kitchen presses for big and little plates, cups, spoons, forks, etc. and then sort them according to size.
Draw pictures that tell a story of a sequence of events, for example your morning routine; waking up, getting dressed, brushing teeth and having breakfast. Your child can put these pictures in the right order and then tell you the story.
The milestones above are reasonably well recognized, however there are a number of similar sources which cover this topic below.
When to see a Speech and Language Therapist:
- You can track your child’s communication development online on www.communicationmatrix.org. This website is free for parents to use.
You should contact one of our Speech and Language Therapists if you check ‘Yes’ to any of these questions.