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“What do I need to know about my child’s speech development?”

By Lisa Houghton, Talking Tots (


Being a parent to a newborn is a worrying business – there are so many things to worry about. Is my baby healthy? Is he too hot, too cold, too big, too small? Most of all – is he doing what he should be doing?


When it comes to your baby’s speech, it’s hard to say. Different children acquire language skills at vastly different rates - a child’s first word might happen before his first birthday, or not until his second. So how do you know if your child has a language delay – or is just choosing his words carefully? 


The first think you need to know: there are no hard and fast rules about speech development in young children. Children acquire language at very different rates and most children who talk late or use only a few words will catch up with their peers within a few years.


Providing your child meets some of the milestones provided below, they are probably developing at the expected rate. However, if your child doesn’t show any of the communication skills expected, do to your health visitor. It may just be that your child is working on other things and will catch up later, but if there is a problem, getting support early is vital because your child is less likely to fall behind. 



Six Months-12 Months 


At around this age, your baby may turn when they hear your voice, or smile if you talk to her. If you’re nearby, she’ll sometimes make eye contact and will probably begin ‘talking’ to you by ‘babbling’ and making a variety of sounds – she’s testing out what her voice can do!


12 Months – 18 Months


Some time around your first birthday, you may hear your baby’s first word – usually this will be a sort of food, a family member or a pet. However, your baby isn’t just communicating using words. You’ll probably also see her pointing to things she wants or using gestures like holding their hands up when she wants to be held. At this age, most babies understand more than they can express, so you might see your baby start to recognise her own name, or look at objects when you ask if she can see them, or even point to them.


18 – 24 Months


By two years of age, most children will have a handful of recognisable words (even if you’re the only one who understands them), and most of these will be words that are particularly close to his heart – up, milk, Mummy, Daddy. There may be some words he’s just learning, which you’ll recognise – it’s common for children to say “ba” for ball, for example, or “bic” for biscuit.


2-3 Years


Between the ages of two and three, your toddler’s favourite word may well be “NO!” This negativity is all part of your child’s desire to assert his independence, and at the same time, you might notice she’s beginning to refer to herself by name (many toddlers will call themselves by name long before using the “I” pronoun).


Around this time, your child will probably know around 50 words, and may be putting together simple two-word sentences, gradually moving on to more complicated language skills – including the ability to ask questions and to describe actions and objects.


3-4 Years


By the time your child turns three years of age, his vocabulary will have increased enormously – with an average toddler of this age knowing anywhere from 300 to 1,000 words (although more or less can still be normal).


Your toddler might start experimenting with longer sentences and begin testing out what are known as ‘narrative skills’ – which means she can describe a simple story or idea.


Around this age, toddlers will often begin using imaginative play and imitating the language they hear around them – so don’t be surprised if you find your three year old giving teddy a good telling off!


4-5 Years


All being well, by the time a child starts school, they will be using more sophisticated sentences, with different tenses and complex grammatical structures. You will understand almost everything your child says to you. A four-year-old has a much more powerful memory than a smaller child, so he will probably be able to follow instructions that have more than one part, like ‘take off your shoes and hang your coat up’ (although we can’t guarantee he’ll follow the instruction!)


((Box Out - Tips to Get Babies Talking!))


In the first year, help your baby to associate what he sees with words. When he looks at a toy, say, “Oh, I see you’re looking at the duck. He’s yellow, isn’t he?” At bath time, name the body parts as you wash them. And don’t forget to leave space for him to answer back – those little giggles and noises are your baby’s way of talking to you!


In the second year, sing familiar songs with your child. Encourage her to join in with actions or make animal noises at the appropriate moment. Try to make new words and sounds lots of fun. Don’t correct her if she gets words wrong, just try to praise her efforts and use the right words yourself.


In the third year, help build your child’s vocabulary by introducing concepts like colours and numbers, through games. Count blocks when you build towers, or challenge your toddler to find all the yellow bricks while you find the red bricks.


In your child’s fourth year, get them involved in describing things and let them take over the bed time story sometimes. What do they think happens next? It’s also a good time to arrange play dates and let your child practice his sharing and turn-taking with some playmates! 

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