Speech and Language Development

Speech and language is an essential part of any child’s development. Language development impacts your child’s social interactions, behavior and academic skills.

Milestones that demonstrate normal speech development include:

Age Language Level
Birth Cries
2-3 months Coos in response to you, smiles
6 months Babbles, turns and looks at new sounds
8 months Responds to name, pats self in mirror
10 months Shouts to attract attention, says a syllable repeatedly
12 months Says 1-2 words; recognizes name; imitates familiar sounds; points to objects
12-17 months Understands simple instructions, imitates familiar words, understands “no,” uses “mama” “dada” and a few other words
18 months Uses 10-20 words, including names, starts to combine 2 words “all gone,” “bye-bye mama,” uses words to make wants known “up” “all done” or “more;” knows body parts
2 years Says 2-3 word sentences; has >50 words, asks “what’s this” and “where’s my” vocabulary is growing; identifies body parts, names pictures in book, forms some plurals by adding “s”
2 ½ years Gives first name; calls self “me” instead of name; combines nouns and verbs; has a 450 word vocabulary; uses short sentences; matches 3-4 colors, knows big and little; likes to hear same story repeated
3 years Can tell a story; sentence length of 3-4 words; vocabulary of about 1000 words; knows last name, name of street, several nursery rhymes, can sing songs
4 years Sentence length of 4-5 words; uses past tense; identifies colors, shapes; asks many questions like “why?” and “who?” Can speak of imaginary conditions “I hope” Uses following sounds correctly: b, d, f, g, h, m, n, ng, t, w, y (as in yes)

If your child is not meeting these milestones, talk with your pediatrician. The first step is to get your child’s hearing checked. Even if they seem to hear just fine, kids are experts at picking up visual cues to get by. It’s important to catch hearing loss early, so that treatment begins as soon as possible.

Tips for supporting your child’s speech and language development

  • Start talking to your child at birth. Even newborns benefit from hearing speech.
  • Respond to your baby’s coos and babbling.
  • Play simple games with your baby like peek-a-boo and patty-cake.
  • Talk to your child a lot. Tell them what you are doing as you do it.
  • Read books aloud. Ask a librarian for books appropriate to your child’s age. If your baby loses interest in the text, just talk about the pictures.
  • Sing to your child and provide them with music. Learning new songs helps your child learn new words, and uses memory skills, listening skills, and expression of ideas with words.
  • Use gestures along with words.
  • Don’t try to force your child to speak.
  • Expand on what your child says. (For example, if your child says, “Elmo,” you can say, “You want Elmo!”)
  • Describe for your child what they are doing, feeling and hearing in the course of the day.
  • Listen to your child. Look at them when they talk to you. Give them time to respond. (It feels like an eternity, but count to 5—or even 10—before filling the silence).
  • Encourage storytelling and sharing information.
  • Play with your child one-on-one, and talk about the toys and games you are playing.
  • Plan family trips and outings. Your new experiences give you something interesting to talk about before, during, and after the outing.
  • Look at family photos and talk about them.
  • Ask your child lots of questions.
  • Don’t criticize grammar mistakes. Instead, just model good grammar.
  • Follow your child’s lead, so you are doing activities that hold their interest as you talk.
  • Have your child play with kids whose language is a little better than theirs.

Excerpted from “Speech and Language Development” from C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, University of Michigan Health. Read the full article for information on the causes of speech and language delay, treatments, and additional resources.

Source: C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital | Speech and Language Development, https://www.mottchildren.org/posts/your-child/speech-and-language-development | © Copyright 1995-2023 Regents of the University of Michigan. Retrieved January 2023.
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