Language Growth and Development

How does your baby go from gurgles and giggles to words and sentences? It can happen only with help from others. From the day your baby is born, her language skills are developing. Research shows that building vocabulary is tied to enhanced reading skills and doing better in school. Speaking to your baby in one or more languages from the start has an important, positive effect on her language skills, which helps her enter kindergarten ready to succeed.

Ages 0-12 Months:

Infants begin to learn from birth, and talking, reading and singing to your baby from the start is important to developing language skills. When you answer his gurgles with talking, touching and smiling, you are having a “conversation.” You are communicating that his sounds have meaning and are important. Try playing simple word games with your little one, such as asking, “Where’s your ear?” then touching his ear. Identifying an object and repeating its name helps your baby learn to connect the word with the object and begin to build vocabulary and conversational skills. Make him laugh with funny voices and faces. Read simple books and point out things to your baby; sing lullabies and other songs. Most children speak their first word around their first birthday, and usually understand many more.

Ages 1-3 Years:

From age 12-36 months, language development speeds up and takes off! At 18 months, most toddlers use about 50 words; by 24 months, they use between 200-300 words and by the age of 3, children use between 500-1100 words. Children also understand many words that they do not yet use in conversation. It is crucial to talk, read and sing frequently with your toddler to help him develop vocabulary, pronunciation and conversational skills, because his learning now influences his ability to learn in the future. When you are together, ask about what he observes, pointing out colors, shapes and sizes (“That is a big red flower. Do you see another red flower?”). As he gains vocabulary, ask him open-ended questions (“Tell me about the cars we see.”). Read every day, and talk with your child as you read together. Point to pictures and name what is in them, then invite him to do the same.

By the age of 5, most children have a working vocabulary of about 2,000 words

Ages 3-5 Years:

Your child gains new vocabulary every day during the preschool years, and the number of words she hears at home helps grow her vocabulary and prepare her to enter kindergarten. By the age of 5, most children have a working vocabulary of about 2,000 words. Ask your child to tell you a story about her day, and ask her opinion about things. Listening carefully will let her know you value her and her ideas. To encourage complex and abstract thinking and problem-solving skills, ask questions beginning with “How” or “Why” (“Why do you think cats purr?”). To build vocabulary, play “I Spy” (“I spy a store where you buy medicine.” When your child says, “pharmacy,” it is then her turn to “spy” something for you to guess). Build word skills by letting her help plan and discuss activities. Every day, read books with your child for at least a half hour. Ask questions about the ideas in the book (“Would you do something different from what the boy did in the story?”). Have a family sing-along night, when each family member chooses a song for everyone to sing together.

Bilingual is Beautiful

Research shows that growing up speaking two languages helps a child’s brain become more active and “flexible,” enhances memory, aids in learning math concepts and word problems and makes it easier to learn other languages. Speaking with a child in any language is important for his growth and development. Speaking in two languages is even better!

Speaking Up to Get Help

Being concerned about how your child’s speech is developing is a normal part of parenting—so is asking for help. If your baby is not using words by 15 months, for example, speak to your pediatrician as soon as possible. Early help for hearing and communication issues can make a big difference for your child.

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