The building blocks of language: a child’s journey through learning to speak

Posted by I CAN / Tuesday 23 August 2016 / Parenting Tips Speech and Communication

Learning to talk is an amazing process.

In the space of a few short years children progress from being unable to understand or say anything, to being able to have complex conversations, understand complicated stories and learn new and quite tricky things at school. Language is such a crucial skill – for learning, socialising and making friends – almost everything relies on understanding or talking!

Just like many skills that children need as they grow and develop, there are typical milestones for learning to talk. It’s fascinating to see the rate and way that children’s language progresses. Here are just a few key milestones that mark important steps in learning to talk:

  • Children’s understanding always develops before talking, so they will understand much more than they can say.
  • We expect that children usually say their first words at about one year old. Some children say their first words at 11 months, others at 13 or 14 months but it is generally in this window. Remember, their words won’t sound the same as an adults; they won’t have mastered all the sounds yet.
  • By two years old we expect children will be saying at least 50 words and to start to put two words together into phases like ‘more juice’ or ‘mummy shoes’. There will still be sounds they can’t say so they might be hard to understand.
  • A typical three year old will talk in four to five word sentences and their language just takes off. They’ll probably be asking lots of questions and enjoy listening to simple stories. By the time they are three and a half, their speech should be clear to everyone.
  • As they reach four years old children are more and more able to have longer conversations and to talk about things that happened in the past. You might still hear some mistakes – things like ‘I runned’ instead of ‘I ran’ are common!
  • Five year olds will usually be able to understand more complicated language and talk in well-formed sentences. Their understanding of longer instructions is good too.

But language development doesn’t stop here. Children continue to develop more and more sophisticated language skills all through their school years and into young adulthood. Language that’s linked to their learning is often new to them and needs practise to get it right.

If you’re wondering how your child’s language skills are developing, this handy Progress Checker will give you an idea. If you’re worried about your child, or would just like some ideas about how to help your child with their language development, why not get in touch with the free I CAN Help service? You can speak to a speech and language therapist for advice and information.

Learning to talk is one of the most complex foundation skills that children learn. Many children do this easily and put the building blocks together. But it’s always a good idea to keep an eye on things just to make sure.

I CAN is the children’s communication charity. They are experts in helping children develop the speech, language and communication skills they need to thrive in a 21st century world.

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