Child Health & DevelopmentGrowth & Development

Learning How to Talk

Learning How to Talk

Know more about your child’s language development

The importance of language development

•           Language is an important element for the learning process to occur.

•           12 -14 percent of school-age children have language difficulties.

•           25 percent of children having language difficulties can develop learning disabilities in the future.


What is language?

•           Language is a code whereby ideas are expressed. It is a form of social behavior that is maintained and shaped by a verbal community.

•           Language skills involve receptive skills – the ability to understand spoken language, expressive skills – the ability to speak, and pragmatic skills – the ability to use language in different situations.


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How does a child acquire language?

•           To adequately develop language, the child has to have intact mental abilities (Intelligent Quotient / IQ) and normal hearing. He also has to be surrounded by a language-stimulating environment.

•           Some experts believe that language acquisition is an innate specification that human beings are born with, whereas others believe that language is not inherited but is actually acquired through learning.


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The stages of language development can be classified into two stages: the pre-linguistic stage (from birth to the first 12 – 15 months) and the linguistic stage (15 months – 8 years old).

First 6 months:

A baby produces biological crying to fulfill his physiological needs such as hunger. He also watches adults’ faces while speaking to him, startles in response to loud noises, turns to where a sound is coming from, imitates some vowels such as /o/ and /a/, and smiles and laughs in response to adults’ smiles and laughs.

7 months

A baby produces and imitates more sounds. Babbling appears, which is a string of consonants and vowels e.g. /bababa/.

8-9 months

A baby has different cries to express different needs, smiles and laughs more frequently, responds to a telephone ringing or a knock at the door and understands when being told “no.”

10-12 months

A baby gets what he wants through pointing, tries to reach others to get picked up, enjoys being around people, instantly turns his head to his name, frequently produces varied babbling, such as “baba”, “mama”, “dada” and understands up to 10 words such as “bye” and “hot.” In some children, first words start to appear.

1 year old

A child follows simple instructions such as “Clap your hands,” looks across the room to a toy when an adult points at it, produces 3 – 5 single separate words, and waves bye.

1 1/2 years old

A child understands the meaning of “in – out – off – on” with some help, points to more than two body parts, uses at least 20 words, responds with words or gestures to simple questions, and points to pictures using one finger and produces more jargon (an unintelligible string of words).

2 years old

A child follows two sequential directions that are related to each other, such as “get the juice and drink it,” and uses at least the two pronouns “I and me.” He also uses 150 – 300 words, produces phrases of two words, engages in one or two turn dialogues, and enjoys being around other children. Half of his speech is clear enough.

2 1/2 years old

A child understands the concepts of “big – small – more – less,” recognizes familiar logos, uses more than 350 words, uses more verbs, speaks in three word sentences, expresses negation using “No”, and easily follows two-step directions and masters some speech sounds such as  /k/ and /g/.

3 years old

A child uses 900 – 1000 words, speaks in four word sentences, uses conjunctions such as “and,” uses common comparatives such as “bigger,” masters some sounds such /f/ and /s/, and talks about past events. Most of his speech is clear to strangers.

4 years old

A child follows three order commands, begins to understand the concept of “before” and “after”, “in front of” and “behind”, uses past tense and negative forms more readily, masters more pronouns, properly forms questions, masters the /sh/ sound and tells stories.

5 – 6 years old

A child appropriately uses future tense to speak about upcoming events and follows complicated commands, such as “Put your red book on the table before you go to the bathroom and brush your teeth.” His listening comprehension and storytelling are well-developed by this age.

By 7 years old

All grammatical rules, speech sounds and conversational skills are mastered. The child can introduce a topic, sustain it, end or switch it. He can use language for different purposes such as promising, warning, or telling jokes.

8 years old

At 8 years, language is completely developed. It is almost like adults’ language. Afterwards, language continues to develop other routes such as reading and daily life interactions.

When Should Parents Seek Help?

It is advisable that parents regularly check their child’s language level, on both the receptive side (understanding), as well as expressive side (talking),  against the previously mentioned language development milestones. If parents notice a lag in their children’s language abilities (less than 6 months),  they should start working with their children  using the above mentioned recommendations. This can help children with minimal language delay, overcome their difficulties, and catch up with their peers. However, if the lag still exists despite the efforts exerted by parents or the lag is already more than 6 months, parents do need to seriously consider phoniatric (speech and language pathology) consultation at clinics, hospitals, or learning support centers.

It is essential to keep in mind that the younger your child is, the more flexible he is regarding learning. In addition, language difficulties in infants and preschool children may lead to serious academic difficulties in the future.

What Kind of Help Should the Parents Seek?

It is advisable that parents seek phoniatric consultation. Parents are often advised to wait till the age of 3, however this might have  a true negative impact on the child’s benefit from future therapy.


Read also: Enhance Your Child’s Speech.

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Dr. Dalia Mostafa Osman

Dr. Dalia Mostafa Osman has been working in the field of speech and language for over eighteen years. She is a Professor of Phoniatrics at Faculty of Medicine, Cairo University. She holds a Bachelor degree of Medicine & Surgery, and Master and Medical Doctorate degrees of Phoniatrics. She has been awarded the Certificate of Clinical competence from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (USA). She is a member of ASHA (USA), Hanen Program (Canada) and Arab Network of Autism. She is the founder of the Speech and Language Clinic (SLC) . Her work encompasses clinical services, staff professional development, parent training, and outreach consultations.

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