Lisa Brady gives us a go-to guide on what to expect from your child’s speech development.
As most parents will attest, hearing your child’s first word is one of those unforgettable moments. However, parents can worry greatly if they feel their children’s speech and language development is not progressing at the rate it should. Although there is some variance in the rate of development, there are general milestones that most children should reach by a certain age.
‘’A baby starts with vowel sounds, then moves to consonants. By one year, they should have five to six words, and by 15 months, expect an explosion of words,’’ says Ronan Maher, programme director of Cluas, which assists children and adults with speech and language difficulties.
Check the hearing first
Where there are first concerns about speech and language, a hearing test may be the first port of call, alongside an auditory examination, says Ronan.
‘’Hearing is physical, but listening is psychological – it’s about what you do with the sounds that you hear. This can affect speech and language development, and often this has nothing to do with the parent, it’s just how some children develop,’’ he says.
Delays are often the result of frequent ear infections during the critical stages of language development, says Maher, although at times lack of communication or progression for their age can be a sign of disorders like autism, Asperger’s or dyslexia. With all, early intervention is key.
“A mistake is to adopt the ‘’he’ll just grow out of it’’ approach. Also, don’t assume it’s because the child is shy. No child is born shy – they may be shy because they have difficulty in development.”
And what of the common belief that boys’ speech and language develops at a slower rate than girls?
Maher thinks that although there may be a slight genetic disposition that suggests this, it’s an issue that is overstated. “There’s far more boys than girls in this country, plus the fact that a lot of girls go undiagnosed with language development delays – we see girls right up to the age of 19. The problems with auditory processing can be hidden when children get to school – the boys tend to act up while the girls go quiet.”
Pronunciation can also be an area of concern, with certain sounds proving problematic at times. “Take the ls and rs – these are the laterals, and are usually the last sounds to be mastered,” explains Ronan. “Problems with them stem from the positioning of the tongue in the mouth, leading the child to replace ‘r’ with ‘w’.”
Some children can also have problems with guttural sounds ‘g’ and ‘k’, and fricatives like ‘s’ ‘ch’ and ‘f’ – more complex sounds that involve a sequence of physical movements in the mouth.
When helping your child develop speech, be careful about your own use of language. “Try to avoid correcting the child, which has negative connotations,” says Maher. “Remember that children imitate and mimic you, so if they mispronounce a word, just nod and repeat the word in the correct way. They have a short attention span, so your corrections will likely be ignored anyway,” he says.
For parents that can’t resist a bit of baby talk, there’s no evidence that ‘goo gaa’ promotes effective speech and language development. “Language is actually a complex software – especially for a child, when you’re talking to them about something that’s not directly in front of them,” says Ronan.
Reading together and spending quality time with your children away from TV and mobile phones are great ways to help develop their verbal skills. Constant communication is essential, even if the child does not understand what you are saying to them. A child will always want to see the reaction of their parent, and are encouraged by smiling and attention.
“When parents speak to their children, their child will stare at their eyes and mouth, so it’s essential to keep this contact. Even something like narrating what you’re doing as you’re going around the house is essential – it may seem like a monologue as you may not get much back but it’s all being processed by the child. Knowing what’s ‘normal’ and what’s not in speech and language development can help you figure out if you should be concerned or if your child is on schedule.”
Milestones in language development in children
This is the prelinguistic phase, where communication takes the form of facial expressions and eye contact. They will begin to use different cries to express different needs. At about two months a baby begins cooing and making repetitive vowel sounds. The baby should also begin to recognise different people’s voices, and smile with pleasure when they hear their parents for example. In a few more months a baby can tell that speech sounds are matched by the speaker’s mouth movements. The baby will slowly begin to imitate and mirror these mouth movements. This is a vital step in language development.
Consonant sounds appear about six to seven months. For the first time the baby has the muscle control needed to combine the consonant sound with a vowel sound. This is the start of babbling – the preparation for spoken language.
At around nine months a baby will begin to try and ask for things by using gestures, sounds and body language. At ten months a baby will begin to reach for an object they want. Receptive language, understanding the meaning of words spoken, begins to develop around nine or ten months. Children generally understand before they can speak, understanding about 30 words by this age.
By 12 months a child has about one to three words, mostly nouns. Often a child’s first words are used in only one or two specific situations and in the presence of many cues. This early word learning is very slow. Between 12 and 18 months, a child may only learn to say around 30 words.
16- 24 months
At about 16 to 24 months children begin to add new words very rapidly. At around 18 months a child has about 50 words. By age 24 months the child has acquired about 320 words. This is referred to as the naming explosion. 2 plus “By the age of three or four, a child should be able to answer the ‘’wh’’ questions – who, what, where and why,’’ says Ronan.
“Expect demands like ‘I want milk’ and phrases like ‘I love you’ to parents and siblings.” When the child has reached school-going age, the focus shifts to more complex areas like grammar. “Remember, children learn a huge amount of language from other kids. If you have an only child, pre-school care like crèche where they interact with others their own age can be vital.”
More like this:
Elocution lessons in Ireland
How to teach social skills