Early Developmental Milestones for Language: First and Second Year
Language development begins well before you hear your child’s happily awaited first word. When your child looks at your face, that is the beginning of communication skills. When your child smiles in response to your smile, that is the beginning of communication. When your child vocalizes and you can tell that she’s happy or sad or hungry, that is the beginning of communication skills. We have approximate ages when parents should expect to see various communicative behaviors. It is important to keep in mind that there is range of ages that is considered typical for any language behavior.
Babies generally begin to look at their parents’ faces within the first month of life. You may also notice that your child's cries are quieted by the sound of your voice. It may be a surprise to know that your child has actually been hearing your voice for many months since hearing is developed before your child is born.
Over the next couple of months, your child begins to vocalize in a variety of ways, not just crying (thank goodness!) and you may be able to tell when he is hungry, tired or contented. You will hear squeals and chuckles. He'll vocalize in response to your voice, too and you'll see his social smile. Gradually, you'll begin to notice some consonant sounds and then, the beginning of babbling behavior, what is commonly known as “baby talk”.
At around the age of 6 months, sounds that are not in the baby’s native language begin to drop out. This does not occur in children that cannot hear. The repetition of syllables (as in ba-ba-ba) decreases, as your baby begins to use more single syllables, and it might sound more like ba-di-nu. Your baby will begin to vocalize in response to talking, almost like she’s participating in the conversation. Your child’s vocalizations should increase in quantity and variety. And of course, we all hear that meaningful first words occur at around the age of approximately one year.
The important thing to remember is that these ages ARE approximate, but one thing you SHOULD see, is your child's interest and awareness of the speech around her. Whether your child looks at you when you talk to her and whether or not she enjoys vocalizing with you are more important than all of the aforementioned numbers. Often, when parents call to find out if they should be concerned that their 15 month old is not talking, one of the first questions I ask is, “Does your child interact with you in other ways and is she interested when you speak with her?"
As we move into the second year, your baby has just begun to use a single word or two. How do you know it's a real word? Well, if you notice the same sound or set of sounds (like baba for bottle) consistently, then it is a word, even if it doesn't sound just like the adult pronunciation. And, you know what? Even if you're not sure, you might as well act as if your child did say a real word. If you give your baby her bottle when she says "baba", then she comes to realize that, sounds have meaning and they get results! At this age, she will also look at familiar objects when you name them. She might also touch her nose or mouth when you ask her to.
While your baby is acquiring single words, you may also notice that he still uses sounds that have no meaning. For example, you might hear, "Ahgagabagacookie". This is called jargon; a series of sound combinations with true words interspersed. That's his way of showing you that he understands that one thing that we humans do is produce strings of sounds, with lots of expression, directed towards a listener. This behavior will continue until the ages of 18 to 24 months, as your child's vocabulary of true words continues to develop.
By the age of about 18 months, children can say an average of 25 to 50 single words. Right around this time, they will start to use word combinations. First, you'll hear two words together, such as, "no more" or "go bye-bye" or the ever popular "give me". Your child will also expand his repertoire of sounds. He'll also imitate words that you say including animal sounds.
Over the course of the next six months, your child will begin to combine three words, then four, and so on. It may seem as though he is learning new words every week. He may even point to a picture in a book and really pay attention when you read to him. As your child's language becomes more complex, you will also notice that his play will be noticeably more complex. He'll feed a baby doll, pour make-believe juice in a cup and then give the baby doll a drink.
The first two years of your baby's life are a time of tremendous growth and change. His vocalizations that began as cries are now true words and sentences.