How do Speech and Language develop?
These skills we list above normally emerge very early, usually within the first 12 months of life.
During the first year of life, children acquire different communication skills and learn to communicate with the outside world through expressions, gestures and vocalisation (smiles, grimaces, different types of crying, babbing, etc) with which he communicates his needs and his emotions to the adult that takes care of him.
Initially, these behaviors are not intentional, but over time the interpretation, reinforcement and responses that adults give to these signals gradually cause them to assume a specific and stable means of communication for the child.
Milestones in Language Development:
At birth, babies have the ability to discriminate sounds from all the languages in the world. But starting at around 6 months, they lose this capability for languages other than their own, recognizing as “different” only their mother tongue language. Infant have a preference for their mother’s voice and face, and the main form of communication at this stage is crying.
The canonical or babbling stage starts, that is, the repetition of syllables made up of the same consonant (for example ba-ba-ba, ma-ma-ma). Babbling does not develop in the same way in all children, however, it is an important indicator for later language development.
Babbling becomes varied. That is, children learn to repeat multiple syllables with different consonants (ba-ma-la) and a sentence-like intonation. This stage of language development is very important. It has been observed that children who have a richer sounding babbling develop a broader vocabulary. The child now also begins to understand single words and use the gestures to intentionally indicate, show or request things. The first gestural routines also appear (social gestures such as sending a kiss or saying bye bye).
At 12 months, the production of words is anticipated by representative gestures. These gestures symbolically represent an object or an action (example, gestures of sleeping or drinking). During this year, the first words start appearing (0 to 10 words). These first words are usually related to familiar people and/or objects or to ritual activities. They are mainly articulated with nasal sounds (/ m, n /) and occlusive sounds (/ p, b, t, d /), for example mama, dada, no, bye …
The child now begins to understand short sentences and simple orders, and the adult, who was previously considered only an agent (ie a means to obtain what he desires), begins to be seen as a subject to communicate with.
The vocabulary gradually expands, until it reaches the threshold of 50 words around 18 months, to enter a phase called “the explosion of vocabulary”. The child gradually understands that an object corresponds to each word and that through language he can act on the world around him. For this reason, the acquisition of new words in this phase becomes much faster. This is the stage where children become interested in the names of things and begin using them. No sentences are used yet, but rather sentence-words, that is, single words that encompass the meaning of a whole sentence.
This phase sees a progressive expansion of the vocabulary to reach 150/200 words at around 24 months of age. At this age, the first sentences appear in the form of telegraphic speech, that is the combination of two words without the presence of articles, conjunctions and complex verbal forms (for example mamma pappa).
Fricative sounds (consonants produced by forcing air through a narrow channel in the vocal tract) are voiced (/ f /, / v /, / s /). The vocabulary, in addition to expanding, now becomes progressively more varied. It is enriched not only with nouns, but also with verbs and adjectives, and reaches up to 500 words. Morpho-syntactic skills also start developing, and the child begins putting together simple sentences using subjects and verbs.
Sentences widen and become more and more complete. Articles, prepositions, pronouns are introduced and the child progressively acquires all the sounds of their language, usually completing the entire phonemic inventory within 6 years.
What is a Speech Delay? toddler
The expression “speech delay” is used when a child who, without presenting particular hearing, cognitive and/or social issues, develops language later than usual.
As we have seen, each child has their own personal timing in development, which must be respected. There is no need to make comparisons between children or demand that they go beyond their abilities, and this attitude can actually be harmful, as it can induce feelings of failure and frustration, as well as impair their motivation and undermine their self-esteem.
However, you should not on the other hand put oneself in a state of simple “confident expectation” that the problem will solve itself, as there is a risk of wasting precious time. If you think your toddler may have a language delay, an assessment by a specialised speech & language therapist will help you understand whether there really is a problem, so that it can be approached early and effectively.
When is a speech delay likely to occur?
In general, we talk about language delay when a child says less than 10 words at 18 months of age, less than 50 words at 24 months or less than 80 words at 2 years of age, although there is no strict rule.
Toddlers affected by a language delay are usually between 18 and 30 months old, and typically develop play, motor, and cognitive (reasoning) skills, but have limited vocabulary and poor language. Some children manage to catch-up on their own, while others require speech therapy; but there is no way to tell which path a specific child will take.
In some children there is a higher risk that the language issues may persist. This risk is higher, for example, for children with a history of ear infections or colds, in children that use a limited number of consonant sounds and mostly use vowels and in children that don’t connect ideas or use imitation. In some cases, there is more to the language delay than the language delays itself, for example when the child also:
– exhibits stereotyped behavior;
– does not seem to understand what you are saying when you do not give non-verbal signals;
– does not hear if you are not in front of him or is frightened by noises;
– has difficulty playing with other children.