By: Candace Hutchins
Language development is important for parents to understand in order to detect problems early and to help advance children’s language abilities. Here is a basic outline of the stages of normal language development.
Around 2 months: infants begin intentionally smiling at their caregiver and “cooing” or making vowel sounds
Around 6 months: infants add consonant sounds to make a consonant-vowel combination in long strings and begin babbling
8-12 months: begin to see infants understand their caregiver’s words and they try to represent the words with gestures
12 months: begin to produce full-formed words, with errors
24 months: toddler has a vocabulary of 50-200 words and is capable of creating 2-word sentences; two-word utterances are known as telegraphic speech because like a telegram they omit smaller and less important words; ex: “Mommy shoe”
When language is developing it is helpful for caregivers to be aware of how children cognitively develop language. Comprehension is the first major cognitive development, because children begin to comprehend before beginning to speak. It includes all the words and word combinations that children understand and only requires that a child recognize the meaning of a word. For example, an adult might tell a toddler to play with toy blocks and the toddler will point to their blocks. Production is an advanced form of comprehension because children must recall the concept that a word stands for and also be able to recall the word. Toddlers are focused on language production or the words and word combinations that they use.
Toddler use recognizable styles as they develop their language abilities. The referential style is a style of early language learning in which toddlers use language mainly to label objects. Referential style is beneficial to young learners because it is a way that children expand their comprehension of words. A second more advanced style of early language learning is expressive style, which toddlers use language mainly to talk about their own feelings and needs and those of other people. This develops as toddlers begin to use language as a means to interact with others and the style emphasizes social formulas and pronouns.
As young children develop their language skills, their speech is not perfect and there are common mistakes that they often make. These mistakes fade as children have more social interactions. Two common mistakes, underextension and overextension relate to word development and the naming of objects. Underextension is when a child only calls their one special bear, a bear and does not call any other stuffed bears “bear”. Overextension is a more common mistake that is when a child applies a word like “car” to all vehicles with wheels (trucks, motorcycles, and golf carts). Another example, that can cause some confusion with strangers is when child calls every man that they see with a beard “dada”.
It is beneficial for caregivers to understand the process of language development but they also need to be aware of ways their language or style of speech changes when they are talking to young children. Motherease refers to the way adults speak to infants because they don’t talk to them in the same way they would to other adults. People typically communicate with infants by making gentle, soothing tones and use short words or phrases. Child-directed speech (CDS) is a language style that adults use to speak to young children. They usually use short-sentences and speak in a high-pitched voice, with exaggerated expression, clear pronunciation and distinct pauses between speech segments. In addition, adults will pair speech with understandable gestures in order to express their message. When caregivers repeat new words to children in a variety of contexts, it creates a zone of proximal growth which helps a child’s vocabulary expand.
Joint Attention is another way caregivers can help a child’s vocabulary expand. In joint attention, the child and caregiver focus on the same object or event and the caregiver comments on what the child sees by labeling it. Directing children in joint attention enhances vocabulary for both verbal and preverbal communication. It contributes greatly to early language development, by helping children sustain attention longer, comprehend more speech, produce meaningful gestures and words early and develop a broad vocabulary.
Caregivers are an integral aspect of children’s language development. It is important for them to be aware of how children develop language and ways that they can help the process.