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Speech and Language Development

Dear Elizabeth,
My son is 2-years-old. How can I tell if his language development is on track for a typical child his age?
Claudia Nolasco,
Trenton, NJ
Elizabeth's Tips
Elizabeth Sanchez
Elizabeth Sanchez
Language Development:
  • By 12-15-months, children should be using single words
  • By 24-months, children should be using 2-word combinations
  • By 3 years, children typically are using 3-word sentences
Speech Development:
  • A 3-year-old should be able to be understood by family members and friends
  • By 4-5 a child should be understood by anyone
Expert Advice
Canela Panagiotopoulos
Canela Panagiotopoulos
Speech-language pathologist
The difference between language and speech
Speech and language are the tools that we as humans use to communicate. Speech is the verbal means of communication, and it consists of: articulation – which is how we make speech sounds with our parts of our mouth; voice – which is how we use breathing and our vocal folds to produce the sound; and fluency – which is the rhythm of sound of the speech and the words. Language is how we use those words to understand others and to use it to communicate with others--how we put them together, the vocabulary, the meanings, and the sentence structure.

Language Development Milestones
We have certain milestones or benchmarks. It’s important to remember that every child learns at a different pace, but there are those milestones that we should look at. So in the first three months of life, we’re looking at a child who is crying to communicate. They’re using those sounds to let the parent know that they’re hungry or they want comfort. They are responding to voices around them. By six months of age, the child is then cooing and starting to make little sounds. They are turning to the person who’s talking to them and hearing the voices and responding to that. By one year of age, the child should be saying a few single words. They are responding to simple requests. By two years of age, that child is then putting two words together, and they’re pointing to their facial parts, and they’re answering some simple questions. By three years old, the child is then putting three words together, and they are following three-step directions sometimes. By four and five, their sentences are more complex, they’re involved in conversations, and they’re using it for social interaction.

Don’t Use Baby Talk
When reading or speaking with a child, you should simplify your language, but don’t use “baby talk.” You are the model. You’re using your speech and language as the model for that child to pick up on. So again, they are going to imitate what you say. So if you’re talking in baby talk, eventually when they start talking, they may start talking the same way. You want to simplify, so if a child is younger, use single words to communicate what you want. You can say, “come,” f you want them to come here. If they’re a little older and they’re putting two words together, speak to them in two or three words. You might want to always go up one word from where they’re at in terms of the length of sentences that they’re using. But don’t use baby talk. We kind don’t encourage that.

Early Intervention
If you suspect your child might have a speech or language delay, look for your early intervention program. Every state should have one, so it probably is in a local area in your residence. You can call them up and they will guide you through. They will tell you what the next steps are. They will probably send a service coordinator over to your home who will do a screening and then will make the recommendations, if needed, for a speech and language assessment.

Don’t Compare Children
Every child learns at a different pace, so you shouldn’t compare boys and girls, or this child with that child, or my three-year-old on the playground with another three-year-old on the playground. Look at those benchmarks. Look at those milestones. Is your child meeting those? That should be your guideline to help you decide if you should be more concerned or not.

Speech Delay Versus Language Delay
A speech delay is a breakdown somewhere in the speech mechanisms, such as in the articulation, which is how you make the sounds with different parts of your mouth. For instance, a child might have a little trouble with his tongue. It might be low tone. That could affect some speech sounds. Or a child might have a hoarse voice if you’re using your voice a lot, which little kids do a lot. Or a child might have a problem in fluency, which is stuttering. With a language delay, what you’re looking for is a breakdown in the understanding or taking in of language, the use of language and how the child expresses him or herself.

When a child stutters, it could be part of that child’s normal development. When children are starting to talk, and they’re talking more and more, and their thoughts are there, but they can’t catch up with what they want to say, they might stutter. We do look for some risk factors, though. If it runs in the family, or if the stuttering has been there for over six months, we want to look at it a little closer. But we always want to advise the parents of what to do at home to help the child who is facing any kind of breakdown in communication.
Child Care Provider Comments
Jaimie Bowman
Jaimie Bowman
Mother of two
At 2 and a half, we noticed that our son, Micah, was not talking. He only was using 10 words. We found out that he had a general speech delay. He had fluid in his ears for about a year. For the whole year, we didn’t know that. We just thought that he had repeated ear infections.

His speech was delayed because of the fluid. We never saw any symptoms of a hearing loss. He could hear the train coming two miles away. The audiologist said that he was hearing the high frequencies but not the low ones. He was missing the letters in his vocabulary that are connected to a lower frequency. At that point, he recommended that he continue with speech therapy.

After he was in speech therapy six months, he had a major language burst. He started speaking in sentences. It was amazing. He was 2 ½. We had started this project around his second birthday. From then on, we saw an increase in his vocabulary. He was retested when he was three. He was found to be at the level that he was supposed to.

The doctors and therapists have said that because we got help early that has made all the difference. The problem would have only have gotten worse.
Venita Rhoden
Venita Rhoden
Grandmother of four
My grandson, Brian, has both a language delay and a speech delay. I videotaped and did a daily log of Brian’s activities and development from when he was two months old. I noticed at around 9-12 months that his language was not improving from “dada.” It was regressing. When he went for his 12-month check up, we spoke to his pediatrician and showed her the data that I had written about him and also video.

Since starting therapy, we have since noticed tremendous progress. Before therapy he was totally non-verbal at 18 months. Now, his vocabulary is blossoming. He is at about 20 words, and he has two-word favorite phrases. He points to what he wants, and we try to draw it out of him. If he points to milk, we try to get him to say “milk” before we give it to him. He recently said “nana.” There are some things that other grandparents take for granted. Hearing “nana” was the most beautiful thing.
Alma Martinez
Alma Martinez
Child care provider for 10 years
To promote language development, I use a framed poster of different penguins in different colors. It tells a short story which I read. The kids do the actions the penguins are doing. It is interactive. Even the babies enjoy it. The older ones say the words. The younger ones repeat the words and the motions together, which helps them learn.

When I read to them, I use a story time voice. It is not a comical voice, and it is not baby talk. They will pick up the voice and the tone really quick. They know that you are telling a story because it is the story time voice. That is how babies know to react. Finger and hand songs work well. They know “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “Paddy Cake.” This helps them anticipate motion and words. This will help them learn the words, and they learn that there is melody in the world. You are covering a lot of stuff when you do nursery rhymes. They have to feel it in their bodies. When we do music, they feel it in their bodies. They are learning language and trying to keep up with the music.

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Speech and Language Development Featured Video:
Speech and Language Development
Topic: Child Development
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