Categories: Speech development
anna blee speech pathologist

Anna Blee

Anna is a passionate Speech Pathologist who works with small children and makes them feel special and celebrated as they tackle challenges.

Language development: 1-2 years

Communication Development 0-2 year olds

In the first year of life, a baby shows great growth and development of their communication skills within the world around them. Babies communicate primarily by vocalisations first, then their communication continues to grow into babbling, exploring and copying sounds, before starting to put sounds together to form their first words. The development of communication in young children aged 0 to 24 months varies greatly from one individual to another. Babies begin to understand when someone is communicating with them, learn to respond to words, and begin to express themselves. This blog will explore these stages of communication development in 0–2-year-old children, but first you will discover the primary areas of communication development, including the difference between speech and language.

What is the difference between speech and language?

Children develop a number of critical communication skills in the early years of their life. Play and social interaction, receptive and expressive language, and speech are the primary areas of communication development.

  1. Receptive language: Receptive (comprehension of) language refers to your child’s understanding of spoken information. For children who are developing communication at an age appropriate rate, the comprehension of language is acquired prior to the skills related to expressive language.
  2. Expressive language: Expressive (use of) language is describes your child’s range of words within their spoken vocabulary and their ability use words to form phrases and sentences to share their message. There non-verbal skills that young children might exhibit in the early stages of communication development which are the building blocks for expression of language. These might include; eye contact, facial expressions, turn-taking, and gesture.
  3. Speech: Speech refers to your child’s ability to produce the actual sounds in words correctly. The way young children put speech sounds together and form words influences the ability of unfamiliar listeners to understand your child’s speech.

If you want to delve more deeply into the primary areas of communication development for young children, explore the speech and language development summary.

Pre-Linguistic Stage: 0 to 12 Months

As part of communication development in the first year of life, there is a critical pre-linguistic stage where infants develop skills which are foundational for further development of speech and language abilities. Please see outlined below the development of communication for children aged 0 to 12 months of age, but broken into smaller groups; 0 to 3 months, 4 to 6 months, and 7 to 12 months.

Birth to 3 Months

  • Cries and produces other vocalisations, like cooing and gurgling
  • Smiles in response to seeing their primary caregiver/s
  • Cries to signal their needs and wants (hunger, fatigue)
  • Responds to noises and sounds that are loud
  • Reacts to caregiver/s voice and smiles in response to being spoken to by their caregiver

4 to 6 Months

  • Follows noises and sounds with eye contact
  • Responds to alternations in other’s intonation of their voice
  • Begins to use facial expressions to communicate their intentions
  • Engages with toys that involve noises/sounds
  • Tunes into songs, music, and nursery rhymes
  • Begins to explore early sounds (/p/, /b/, /m/) and combines these like babbling

7 to 12 Months

  • Shares attention with objects and others within their environment
  • Continues to recognise noises and turns head in the direction of sound
  • Enjoys and engages in people games like peek-a-boo
  • Responds to simple requests provided by caregiver
  • Begins to understand words for familiar objects (shoe, cup)
  • Uses gestures to communicate like; reaching, waving and/or pointing
  • Copies/imitates gestures and various sounds produced by their caregiver
  • Continues to babble and explore true sounds and group these together to form a range of varied syllables (bababa, upup, and later; mabada).
  • Intonation and rhythm of speech begins to appear more adult-like
  • Uses a few first words by 12 months of age

Holophrastic Stage: 12 to 18 Months

The holophrastic stage is where infants start to attempt and produce their first words. At this stage, infants primarily communicate using single words to get their message, thought, or idea across to caregivers. Infants begin to learn a variety of word types to convey messages to the individuals within their environment. Please see outlined below the development of communication for children aged 12 to 18 months of age.

Receptive Language:

  • Responds to simple questions
  • Correctly identifies three body parts
  • Understands up to 50 words
  • Points to familiar objects when named by caregiver

Expressive Language:

  • Uses 6-20 simple words within their vocabulary
  • Imitates/copies 2-3 word utterances
  • Names some pictures in a book

The Two-Word Stage: 18 to 24 Months

Around 18 to 24 months, young children begin to produce two-word utterances, often using the words already mastered within their vocabulary. This stage of development is a fascinating and significant milestone in a child’s speech and language growth because young children begin to develop their syntactic skills (syntax). Syntax explains the rules which govern the way words are combined to form phrases, and sentences later in a child’s development of communication. Whilst young children explore and learn to combine two-word phrases, your child will start to practice the basic rules of syntax and learn to order words within phrases, and later use appropriate sentence structure. Please see outlined below the development of communication for children aged 18 to 24 months of age.

Receptive Language:

  • Responds to simple wh- questions
    • Follows 1-2 stage commands
    • Correctly identifies four body parts
    • Understands basic verbs and simple prepositions, such as; in and on

Expressive Language:

  • Uses 50-200 intelligible words within vocabulary
  • Consistently uses 2-3 word combinations
  • Uses ‘no’ purposefully
  • Produces some pronouns, although may be incorrectly used (mine, my)
  • Uses rising intonation to ask questions by changing tone of voice

If you want to delve more deeply into the key benchmarks for young children’s communication development aged 0 to 24 months, explore the communication milestones kit.

What should you do to support your 0 to 2-year-old’s communication development?

The development of communication within the early years of life (0 to 24 months of age) is influenced by a range of factors and these are variable for every individual child. There are a range of strategies that you as a parent can adopt to support early communication development for your child. The implementation of strategies can create positive environments for infants and young children, and therefore facilitating their communication development. The use of such strategies encourages a child’s engagement within the interaction and increases the number of turns and/or verbal responses your child might take in the interaction.

Please see listed below examples of strategies that can be implemented to support and facilitate the development of communication in children aged 0 to 24 months of age;

  1. Get face to face with the child while speaking to them
  2. Speak slowly, use rich intonation and high affect, to encourage the child’s engagement
  3. Model language for your child within play and a range of daily routines to create a language rich environment.
  4. Acknowledge your child’s communicative attempts (gesture or verbal) by repeating their communication (encourages them to take another turn in the interaction).
  5. Use visual supports to match your verbal language being modelled (e.g. gesture, objects/toys, pointing to pictures in books).
  6. Comment on the conversation to encourage the child to take another turn
  7. Offer choices to your child using forced-choice questions
  8. Highlight language by repeating meaningful words and applying stress to certain words
  9. Expand on your child’s message by adding another word or two to form a simple, short phrase.
  10. Engage in book sharing activities with your child to allow them to communicate what is seen and heard in the story.

If you want more information on ways to help and support your child’s development of communication, explore speech development in children.

AUTHOR: Brianna Dingli (CP-SLP)