Babies and young children have brains like sponges; they absorb a wealth of information at great volume. This is reflected not only their physical development but their cognitive development, linguistic ability and social-emotional skills.
Language is the key to communication, but just how quickly do children from the age of 3 months to the age of 3 years pick up new words? These are the common milestones that children will reach linguistically.
3-12 month language milestones
When your baby is between 3 and 12 months old they are absorbing so much information around them, and this directly shapes their communication ability. Between 8 and 12 months is that age which is often deemed a “critical period” in regards to language acquisition, where the brain finds it easiest to absorb and retain new information. This will be evident to you as you watch your baby begin to grasp their native language.
In the first few months of his or her life, your baby will communicate through cries to convey that he/she is either uncomfortable (i.e. may need their nappy changed), hungry or upset. At 3 months old your baby will begin to recognise familiar voices, and will likely coo in response to their mother’s voice. This is crucial for mother-baby bonding.
Amazingly, at six months you will notice your baby becoming more audible and making new sounds, such as laughing and squealing. However, they will still use crying as a way to communicate to you that something is wrong.
The next sound your baby will make is a babbling sound. The babbling stage is a very important developmental stage in the first year of a baby’s life. It means that they are picking up words that they hear you use and are trying to imitate them, using their mouths to make different sounds. You should encourage this babbling by using your mouth and face expressively when talking to them. You should also use gestures when talking about particular people.
By 12 months your baby will likely be reacting to familiar names and words, and show that they recognise their own name being said. They may even start to say simple words like “mama”, “dada”, “yes” and “no” to get attention and respond to simple demands. They may also be able to say “bye-bye” with a gestured wave.
To encourage these simple first words, you should exaggerate your gestures when referring to something or someone. For example, if you are the baby’s mother, you should point to yourself when saying “mama”.
12-18 month language milestones
Babies between 12 and 18 months old will learn to communicate using words, sounds and gestures in tandem. It is also the age at which babies will say their first words, such as “mama” or “no”, and be fully aware of its meaning. In terms of his/her vocabulary, your baby will know between 5 and 10 words, but this vocabulary will grow and grow over the following months.
At around 15 months it is likely that your baby will become more obedient and be able to follow simple instructions. However, while they may understand the word “no”, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will obey your wishes.
Babies at this stage of their life will also begin to show a greater attention span and will be able to concentrate on simple things that you are telling him/her. They will also show a greater interest in people and the things around them, and if you encourage this intrigue and curiosity you will notice that their language skills will advance quickly.
18-24 month language milestones
When your baby/toddler is between 18 months and two-years-old, you will begin to witness incredible language and communication milestones.
Firstly, in regards to vocabulary, your child will be able to combine more and more words and string them together into simple sentences (usually made up of 2-3 words). These sentences may not be entirely “correct” or coherent, but you will be able to understand what they are trying to say.
When your child is coming up to his/her second birthday you will also notice that he/she can communicate with other groups of children of a similar age. Your child will show interest in others by listening intently, hold eye contact with other children and use short sentences to converse.
Allowing your child to interact with other children is essential for healthy language development, so you should consider enrolling them in an early childhood language development centre where their communication and language skills can be nurtured.
2-3 years language milestones
Between the ages of two and three, your toddler will develop leaps and bounds in their ability to communicate using words and body language, and their aptitude for socialising with other children and adults (parents, teachers and caregivers) will advance.
Not only will their motor skills improve (they will be able to open doors and use remote controls, mimicking the adults around them), but they will be able to express what they are doing using more coherent and complex sentences. What’s more, they may be able to multitask – talking and playing at the same time.
A toddler’s vocabulary will expand tremendously from the age of two-years-old to three-years-old. At two-years-old, your toddler may know around 50 words, but at 3 they could know up to 200 words. They will also begin to grasp the difference between nouns and verbs, and how to use them in sentences. They may also use past and present tense correctly.
This means that by the age of three, your toddler will likely be understood by strangers as well as by close family.
Young children develop at such an incredible rate, it’s almost magical. Not only do they develop physically and grow at an alarming rate, but their cognitive and language development is perhaps the most impressive.
Remember: all children develop at different rates. However, If you feel like your child is not developing at the rate that he/she should, seek advice from a professional caregiver or see your GP.