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A Parent’s Guide to Early Language Development

SAMBA wishes to thank Marney Yeates, TALK Speech Pathologist for preparing the following article.

The Early Months

Long before they can speak, infants are listening to their parents and carers. They start to make noises and sounds that come before speech. Adults imitate and respond to these noises and begin the “communication exchange”. This is where learning to talk begins. 

6 Months

  • Start babbling eg “ba-ba-ba, bub-bub”
  • Reinforced for smiling and changing facial expressions by adults looking at them and talking to them

8-12 months

  • Lots of babbling eg “da-da-da, ma-ma-ma”
  • Know the meaning of some simple words (they might not say these words, but should understand them) eg “mummy, bottle, no, drink, more”
  • Use one or two single words
  • Wave “bye-bye” when prompted
  • Follow simple requests – eg “give me the ball”
  • Use noises or movements to show things and to get adults attention
  • Look where the adult has pointed

12-18 months

  • Lots of babbling in the child’s ‘own language’
  • First single words emerge by about 12 months – eg “no, dad, mum, dog, more”
  • Can point to objects they know when asked – eg “Where’s the cat?”
  • Know their name and respond when they hear it
  • Often copy familiar words
  • Understand simple, short phrases and instructions – eg “you shake it”, “where’s your shoe?”, and “can you dance?” etc.

18 months to 2 years

  • Have 100 plus words in their vocabulary, but may only use 20 to 30 expressively (including names)
  • Understands “no”
  • Can say their name
  • Ask for simple things that they need eg “drink”, “no more”
  • Start joining words together – eg “mummy home”, “all gone”, “daddy do it”
  • Often copy the last part of a sentence heard
  • Make the sounds of familiar animals –eg “meow” for a cat, “moo” for a cow
  • Experiment with speech sounds (and make lots of mistakes with speech accuracy!)
  • Can point to basic body parts – eg “where’s your…eyes, nose, mouth?” etc

2 to 3 years

  • Chats to self and other toys / dolls
  • Asks, “What’s that..?” and “Where’s my…?”
  • Use 2 word negative phrases such as “no want”, “no more”
  • Forms some plurals by adding –s to the ends of words – eg book ?books
  • Vocabulary develops to around 450 words
  • Combines nouns and verbs – eg “mummy go”, “Sarah jump”
  • Refers to self as “me” rather than by name, or with “I”
  • Likes to hear stories repeated
  • May say “no” when means “yes”
  • Answers “where” questions
  • Names common pictures and things
  • Uses short sentences like “me want more”, or “more drink mummy”
  • Matches 3 or 4 colours and knows some simple concepts – eg “big, small”