Language development: The journey through the first two years

Parents play a significant role in the development of language in their children. Consider these strategies for a smooth and effective passage through the first two years of development.

Parents are often worried that their children are not talking a lot by the time they reach age one and definitely by age two. This is a common concern. Keep in mind that speech development is a lengthy process and can take, in some cases, as long as seven years. Be patient and take into consideration that an infant is born on a clean slate and has several things to develop. Language development as well as intellectual development, gross motor, fine motor and social emotional development are all areas that must develop. A child may be very strong in one or two of those areas and maybe not as strong or developed in language. What a child understands, his “receptive language,” will develop before his “expressive language,” what he actually says aloud.

At the age of 1½ to 3½ months, look for a child to turn in the general direction of sounds and familiar voices around him/her. An infant this age should start making sounds with his saliva and begin cooing. Watch for your infant to start taking turns making sounds back and forth. At this age a baby’s brain is organizing the sounds of the language he hears around him.

By the time an infant is 5½ months-old, she should start to react when she hears her name. Listen carefully to sounds she makes with her mouth; these sounds include blowing raspberries, gurgling and cooing to show happiness and pleasure, as well as the use of open vowel sounds like “ahh,” “eee,” and “ooo.”

During the next phase of language development, an infant begins to associate sounds he hears with objects and people he sees. He will also begin to understand a few words which are used often such as “mommy,” “daddy,” “bye-bye” and “ba-ba.” This phase usually is done by age eight months.

Between 8-14 months-old, a baby will sometimes respond to simple requests and start to understand the infamous word, “No!” Often times, at this age, a child will understand between 10-15 words that are used on a frequent basis. Also, it’s very common for a 12 or 13 month old to start pointing or gesturing with little moans, grunts or whines to vocalize a need.

The next phase is when parents might notice a huge difference in their child’s language development. At 14-24 months a child will understand many words and follow simple directions. She may use words with gestures to express wants and needs and imitate adult inflections and often times will sound like she is really talking.

During this time it is so important to talk to your child constantly. Describe objects and things you see. Tell your child what you are doing and what he is doing during play. Connecting an action with a word is crucial for a child to begin to understand what words mean. Most importantly, read to your child!

While you are going through this journey with your little one keep this in mind: think of yourself as an adult trying to learn a foreign language. Your foreign language instructor is constantly rattling off new words from behind a desk and doesn’t show you any pictures or demonstrate any action what so ever. How easily are you going to learn that language? Make the process easier for your child by using some of these strategies.

For more information on literacy and language development, check out this study that was conducted by the Nevada Agricultural Experiment Station, “The Crucial Role of Parents in Children’s Literacy and Language Development” as well as the Michigan State University Extension website.

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