It was thought that children’s language was a simplified variant of adult language in the past. Today we know that every child builds his own language. In the beginning, the child’s sound system and vocabulary are very simple, and the child uses only a few rules for pronunciation and grammar.
Children are not bad at imitating, but they do not have the ability to perceive all the sounds and grammar rules in the adult language.
Their linguistic development is fast and over time they acquire more and more new sounds and more rules. The driving force that primarily drives the child’s interest in learning a language is the human need for contact and communication.
Learning to speak at a normal pace does however require certain biological conditions such as normal vision and hearing as well as normal ability to interpret their sensory impressions (read more about language difficulties and the child’s hearing).
Language development in the first year
Interest in language and the ability to learn is present in virtually all children. Even before the child can speak, it reacts to voices and moves in step with the rhythm of the surrounding language. The mother’s voice is usually the first voice that the child learns to recognize.
Some researchers believe that this recognition begins already when the baby is in the mother’s womb. The mother’s voice can therefore have a strong calming effect on the baby.
In the beginning, the child expresses himself with the help of his gaze, body language, facial expressions, and screams. In the beginning, they communicate mainly through screams when they are hungry, thirsty, hot, cold or when it is time to change a nappy (read more about baby cries).
The next step in language development is that the child learns to make sounds with the help of the tongue, lips, palate, and possibly the teeth. The first sounds are usually “ohh” and “ahh” and then turn into a “babble”.
Children first learn to pronounce vowels and a little later the child also learns to pronounce consonants. Even when the child is around four to five months, real words such as “ma-ma” and/or “pa-pa” can appear. It will probably take a while before the child really associates these words with you as a parent. Many children wait to try to speak until they feel they understand a large part of what people are saying.
Towards the end of the first year of life, the language has normally developed so much that the child can listen to his or her own name. The child probably understands a few words and simple phrases and expresses himself through dinghy rhymes, gestures, and in some cases single words.
The language from 1 year
When the child is just over a year old, the language has probably developed so much that the child is already an active conversation partner. The child uses sounds, gestures, and single words to communicate with you.
Children at this age often express themselves by reaching for something they want, pushing away things they dislike, sounding different ways to get attention, shaking their heads to say no, smiling, and laughing when they are happy, and by waving hello and goodbye.
Children at this age normally also understand simple prompts and happily pick up and leave what they are asking for. A game that many children appreciate at this age is to point out objects, both in reality and in pictures. It is however not only verbal language comprehension that is increasing. The child is now also beginning to become increasingly aware of the feelings of others.
Between the age of 1 and 1½ years, the child can often say one or more words that they also understand the meaning of. The benchmark 8 words are usually used to check the child’s language development. It is best if the child can both say and understand 8 words, but if the child can only say a single word but understands more than 8 words, then there is normally nothing to worry about. At this age, children also begin to be able to use different tones to express their feelings.
At this age, the spoken language is developing rapidly. From expressing only single words such as “Mom”, “Dad”, “there”, “lamp”, etc., the child soon begins to combine the words with gestures. Language and play are closely linked to each other and with the first words, the first pretend games will also take place, such as feeding the doll and laying the teddy bear in bed.
When the child is 1½-2 years old, the child goes from using only nouns to also using verbs. Children around the age of two are also usually able to put together 2-3 words to form a shorter sentence. The vocabulary can now consist of as many as 200 words and the child reaches ten or more new orders every day. At the age of two, the child’s feeling of being his own person is also strengthened and he now begins to talk more and more about himself, what he or she likes, feelings, and other thoughts that the child has.
The language after 2 years of age
The child’s language development has now come so far that it is now well at home in the structure of the conversation, i.e., that you take turns to talk and listen. Children of this age often want to participate in all conversations, even if they are not “invited” to the conversation. Soon they also learn to judge what is a reasonable sound level for a normal conversation.
When the child is 2-3 years old, speech becomes the child’s most important way of communicating. It can now tell both what it wants and does not want. Body language complements the child’s vocabulary, but the child now not only speaks to communicate. Speaking is now also becoming an increasingly important part of the child’s play and for many children, the language becomes so intense that they even chat to themselves before falling asleep.
As the child now understands much longer sentences and more of the content, it can also concentrate better when you read or tell shorter stories. The child’s ability to use and understand pronouns such as I, me, and you, are now getting better every day. At the age of three, children can control an entire conversation and adapt rhythm, tone, and vocabulary to who they are talking to.
At about four years of age, the basic language development, according to some researchers, has been fully developed. Both in pronunciation and in grammar, children at this age are said to have reached largely the same level as an adult.
Help the child
There is research that shows that children whose parents talked to them a lot when they were little have a larger vocabulary and later a higher IQ than the children who did not receive as much verbal stimulation.
The development of children’s language depends a lot on you as a parent. It may therefore be wise to avoid too much baby language. It is not wrong to simplify your language so that the child understands you more easily, but keep in mind that children learn by listening.
Language development during the first six months
- Language development – The child reacts to sound, turns his gaze, and/or head towards the sound source, the child also sounds himself.
- Advice for parents: what can you do to stimulate the language? Speak softly to the child, sing, and laugh together, pay attention, and explain the sounds the child hears, name family members and objects in the child’s vicinity, and tell what you are doing.
- Seek help: when is there a reason to seek a speech therapist? Be aware that your child is reacting to sounds. If not, examine your hearing. Seek help if your child does not seek eye contact when talking to each other.
Language development at 12 months of age
- Language development – The child understands simple instructions, says mom and dad, and reacts to their name.
- Advice for parents: what can you do to stimulate the language? The child likes when you sound and play with your voice. Let the child discover the joy of talking, and stimulate all attempts at interaction (grimaces, looks, laughter, smiles, etc.).
- Seek help: when is there a reason to seek a speech therapist? Do not let the child seat at the TV/video for long periods of time as it does not stimulate language development.
Language development at 18 months of age
- Language development – The child understands simple instructions and sentences and names common objects, and the vocabulary grows.
- Advice for parents: what can you do to stimulate the language? Talk to the child, as usual, do not use “baby language” but talk in real sentences and words. Give the child’s toddler books and talk about color and shape, it creates interest.
- Seek help: when is there a reason to seek a speech therapist? Seek help if the child stops talking or if the speech does not continue to develop.