Talking about Language Development

baby words image

Talking about Language Development

by Olivia Rhoades, M.A., CF-SLP


I am a speech and language pathologist.  No, that is not quite right.  I am an individual who learned, studied, and was tested upon information about communication disorders for six-and-a-half years in order to finally earn her master’s degree in speech and language pathology.  I am an individual who after all of that work has at last gotten the chance to conquer the “real world” of communication.  I am a speech language pathologist… but what about you?

You may be a parent who has noticed that your child doesn’t talk as much as her peers.  You may be a teacher, noticing that your student’s writing is simple or unorganized.  You may be a pediatrician or therapist, wondering if you should make a referral about a patient whose speech you cannot understand.  Is my child’s speech/language development typical?  When should I seek help?  What should I do at home to encourage speech and language development?  These are the questions I aim to address today.

Is my child’s speech/language development typical? 

At this point, I need to make a major distinction between “speech” and “language”-two words which until now, you may have used interchangeably.  “Speech” is the process of putting sounds together to make words.  It refers to the pronunciation and flow of words…how they sound to a listener.  The most common disorders of speech in children include articulation impairments (consistently mis-pronouncing individual sounds), phonological disorders (consistently getting a “rule” of language production wrong, like always deleting final consonants), and fluency disorders (e.g. stuttering).  It is up to the speech language pathologist to decide whether your child has a speech impairment and what kind, but here are a few good rules of thumb:

  • An unfamiliar listener should be able to understand 90% of what your child says before he/she starts kindergarten.
  • Sounds like “s” “r” and “th” are not expected to be fully developed until a child reaches school age, so don’t worry about them in the preschool years. Most other consonants and all vowels should be acquired by around age 3 ½.
  • Stuttering is sometimes developmental, and repetitions of single words and phrases are expected in preschoolers. However, multiple repetitions of single sounds or stressful facial expressions during moments of stuttering are not considered to be developmental.

On the other hand, “language” is the way words and sentences are formulated in grammatical and complex ways.  This concept is much more abstract, but language development falls into two main categories: receptive language (what your child understands) and expressive language (the words and sentences your child produces).  While language development varies significantly among preschoolers, here are some general guidelines to help track your child’s development:

  • Children typically point to common objects and body parts by age 2.
  • Children can typically follow 2-step directions by age 3, and follow sequential and multi-step directions by age 5.
  • The first word typically arrives around the 1st birthday, with more words developing every month.
  • Children ask “why” questions around age 3, and tell short, sequential stories by age 5.

When should I seek help?

Early intervention is the key to successful speech and language intervention.  If any of the above developmental milestones made you worry or question your own child, a speech and language evaluation is recommended.  Talk to your pediatrician about a referral for speech & language services that are available at Kids In Motion Pediatric Therapy Services.

A comprehensive speech and language evaluation will allow the speech therapist to give information about what (if any) delays are present in your child, will inform goals and objectives for your child’s recovery, and will allow a home program to be implemented for the most successful therapeutic process.

What can I do at home to encourage speech and language development? 

If your child has a speech or language impairment, his or her speech and language pathologist will work with the family to develop an individualized home program for practice.  However, certain techniques and habits are important to remember for all children who struggle with speech and language.

  • Turn it off! Television is okay sometimes.  In fact, everyone needs some down time to relax and put their brain on silent for a while.  However, T.V. is not a substitute for authentic language exposure.  Children, especially those with language impairments, need to be spoken to by caregivers in order to learn language.  Engaging in language based play with your child every day can go a long way.
  • Books are your friend! Picture books are a wonderfully versatile way to explore language.  Read the book, point to the objects in the pictures, retell the story, check comprehension by answering questions, practice using long sentences by repeating the text from the book, practice target speech sounds by accentuating them when they appear in the text.  Everyone has access to books in their local library, and books are truly the most important therapeutic tools for speech and language therapy.
  • Slow and simple wins the race! Children need to hear an abundance of language used in their environments in order to learn it… but they also need some time to absorb what they are hearing.  Using slow, short, and simple sentences when you are talking with your child is the best way to make sure he/she is learning what they hear.  Also, wait a few seconds before repeating your questions-the child may need some extra time to process.

Yes, I am the speech and language pathologist.  I am the one who knows about communication and what to do about it when things go wrong.  But you… are the every-day all-day.  You are the caregivers, the teachers, the question-askers and the answer-seekers.  With your loving question- is my child’s language developing typically? – You are becoming the communication expert.   I hope this post will help you find the answer.  Please call Kids in Motion Pediatric Therapy services for a free screening.

I hope to talk to you later,

Olivia Rhoades, M.A.,CF-SLP

2636 South Milford Road
United States