During the first year, children begin to understand many things non-verbally (facial expressions, tone of voice, gesture) and have situational understanding.
This means the child understands that every time daddy picks up those keys, he is going out. The child doesn’t need speech to necessarily understand all this.
Just by observing the routine, understanding of the situation is established. This situational understanding is also important as the child begins to associate the words they hear with what is going on.
The more these routines are repeated, and the child is talked to through these routines, the more it helps with understanding.
Between 12-18 months of age, a child’s understanding of words increases dramatically.
The child understands many simple instructions, knows the names of the people they are close to, they attempt to copy words and actions and they engage in simple play routines.
They start to speak their first words.
These are often the names of the parents, family members, animals, everyday household/familiar objects; water, food, toy, cup, and their favourite objects.
The words your child will learn first are typically one of two kinds: (a) the ones they are motivated by or things they love (mummy, daddy) or (b) the ones they hear most often.
At this stage your child’s brain is like a sponge.
They will absorb everything you say, so stimulating them appropriately is key.
So talk to your child, tell them what you are doing, tell them about what they are seeing and what will happen throughout the day.
Make sure anyone who works with your child does this too.
We also know that children with a strong knowledge of their mother tongue will develop stronger language skills – in all languages they speak.
Speaking your mother tongue with your child gives them the best opportunities for lifelong learning.
By two to two and a half years, children typically understand short, simple sentences, containing familiar words.
Their own vocabulary would have increased to about 100 or more words and the child will begin to put two words together.
For example, mummy’s chair, daddy’s car or noun plus action-words (verbs): baby eating, mummy sleeping.
Appropriate word order and more detailed grammar starts to manifest around this age, e.g. pronouns and possessives in the child’s verbal language – words such as he, or mine.
Clarity of speech
The clarity of their speech varies a lot at this age, with some children producing quite clear speech and others harder to understand.
By three years, children understand and can use three or more key-words in a sentence such as: Daddy gone now.
They use describing words, Kofi’s big ball; and position-words baby in the box, the cat is under the table.
They make frequent grammatical errors or omit the small words in sentences e.g. Kofi go-ed home but this is not unusual at this age.
They can tell you about what has happened during the day or something they have seen that is not directly in front of them.
Their language starts to be more mature and developed.
They may continue to make a number of articulation errors as they learn to say the sounds of the language clearly but you should be able to understand what they say without difficulty.
Vocabulary by age four would have advanced to include concepts such as colour, shape, describing-words and question words (What, Who, Where, Why, How and When).
The child’s language starts to be more complex and sentences would include words such as “and”, “because”, “but”, “so”.
They can talk about things that happened during the day, in quite detailed ways or tell a simple story.
They may still have difficulties occasionally with certain speech sounds such as s, or th, but their speech should be quite clear.
From five years, the child’s language is becoming more adult-like, although true language maturity continues on into the early teens, and in fact our vocabulary continues to grow for the rest of our lives.
It is important to note that these communication milestones are that of children in High income countries such as the United Kingdom, United States of America.
The difference, if any, may be minimal.
The writer is a Speech & Language Therapist/Clinical Tutor,
University of Ghana.