reading to infants
Birth to Two — Literacy and Language Development

Stephanie S. Pauls, M.Ed., M.S., CCC-SLP/L

“How do babies learn to talk?” asked my six year old son after meeting his two month old cousin for the first time. A question that I think is rather brilliant, not only because he is my son, but also because I am a speech language pathologist and find the emergence of language to be an amazing and incredible journey. After discussing ways in which parents help to establish and reinforce a language system between themselves and their child, it dawned on me to explain to him why language is so important and how it goes hand in hand with reading literacy. Expressive language is the basis for the development of reading and writing. Spoken language and written language have a shared relationship that builds upon each other to result in general language and literacy proficiency. However, before we can get into language and literacy, let’s start with how your child learns “language”.

As parents, there are so many areas that you may be interested in learning more about in regard to speech/language milestones , what to expect your baby to be accomplishing and what you can do to help stimulate communication skills. I have put together a small sample of milestones for you to review.

Speech and Language Emergence of the Birth to Two Year Old

When you bring your child home and most likely even before your child is born, you are communicating by talking, singing, playing games and even reading to him. The sound and cadence of your voice can be heard by your unborn infant and is soothing to him. This begins the emergence of language. Your child’s speech/language begins with early vocalization at 2 or 3 months, followed by babbling around 5-7 months. From 8 to 24 months your child will begin to string sounds or syllables together with intonation. These types of vocalizations will continue throughout your child’s first year and up to his first 50 words. By 12 months, your child should begin to string sounds together for form his first “true” words. Because speech/language is developmental in nature, there is a broad range of “norms”. Typically a child between the ages of 19 months and 24 months of age is 20-25% intelligible to unfamiliar listeners. Below is a further breakdown of some speech/language milestones according to months.

Birth to 3 months:

Your baby will understand many words and actions before he can express them verbally or manually (sign language). Initially, your baby’s form of communication will be in the form of crying, gesturing, facial expressions and sounds. Your baby is learning to experiment with different sounds that he can make as well as the reactions that he may receive. Your baby will also:

  • Exhibit startle response
  • Track objects visually
  • Reflexively smile
  • Locate sounds/voices

4 months to 6 months:

  • Your baby understands a variety of words and should be using a few single words. He is continuing to make a many different sounds. He is laughing, gurgling, reacting to sounds and locating where sounds are coming from. He is using communicative intent and trying to “talk” to familiar people. He may also: Exhibit some babbling (baba, mama, dada)
  • Discover what his vocal mechanism can do: growling, yelling, making “raspberries” and squealing
  • Look at family members when named

7 months to 9 months:

  • Knows and responds to his name
  • Uses syllables Tries to imitate sounds heard
  • Comprehends the meaning of “no”
  • Uses a variety of sound combinations/syllables
  • Uses variegated babbling (maba)
  • Uses some gestural language (peek-a-boo)

10 months to 12 months:

  • Can understand simple, one step directions
  • Understands up to 10 words
  • Relates symbols to objects (bottle)
  • Gestures and vocalizes to indicate wants/needs

13 months to 18 months:

  • Imitates familiar words
  • Waves good bye and plays simple games (pat-a-cake, peek-a-boo) Uses some nouns
  • Makes animal noises
  • Laughs
  • Communicative attempts using words and jargon

19 months to 24 months:

  • Language explodes during this time.
  • Two or more words are put together to make “sentences”.
  • Most words are nouns.
  • Closer to the age of 2, 3-4 words are put together to make sentences.

Tips on How to Stimulate Your Child’s Speech/language Skills

  • Babies tend to pay more attention to utterance that are produced with a higher pitch and with pitch fluctuations. Play games with your child. Children learn early turn-taking skills by playing games with their caretakers such as pat-a-cake and peek-a-boo. This is also true for conversational turn taking. If your baby makes a vocalization, answer him back. This is the foundation of conversation. Eye contact is also an important trait in communication. Respond to your baby’s vocalizations throughout the day as you are caring for him.
  • Read colorful books and point to/label the pictures.
  • Keep your own speech simple, clear and speak slowly.
  • Recite nursery rhymes, poems and songs.
  • Teach him names of familiar people and everyday items.
  • Play music and sing.
  • Model good vocabulary and language structures for your child by labeling everyday items within your routine.
  • Through repetition the child will associate your words with the items. Describe your actions throughout the day using good language structures.
  • Have fun!

Some other resources to check out:  The American Speech and Hearing Association

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