What is Speech and Language


what-is-speech-and-language The most intensive period of speech and language development occurs during the first three years of life. Language seems to develop best in an environment that is loving, caring and interactive.

First words are one of the most important milestones that parents wait and listen for,although first real words typically appear somewhere around a child’s first birthday. Most children will develop age-appropriate speech and language skills by the time they enter kindergarten.

The Difference Between Speech and Language

difference-between-speech-and-languageTo understand your child’s speech and language development, it may help to better understand what’s involved and the differences between the two. Language is the set of rules, shared by the individuals who are communicating, that allows them to exchange those thoughts, ideas or emotions in order to express and receive information in a meaningful way. Language can include spoken word but may also be expressed through writing, signing or gestures. Speech is the verbal expression of language and consists of voice and articulation
Delays in speech and language may not seem easy to distinguish as they often overlap. For instance, a child experiencing troubles with language may be able to pronounce words but may struggle putting more than two words together. On the other hand, a child experiencing challenges with speech may be difficult to understand but he may be able to use words and phrases to express ideas. It could also be that your child has trouble comprehending and following directions but speaks well.

Speech and Language Developmental Milestones

There is a range of typical speech and language development. However, children typically reach speech and language milestones at these points in time.

0–5 months Your baby cries, coos, laughs, and vocalizes sounds, expressing both pleasure and displeasure. Often an adult can tell the meaning of these sounds, for example: “I’m hungry.” The baby watches the caregiver’s face when he or she speaks and will make sounds in response.
6–11 months Baby desires to communicate and has a full range of gestures. Babbling begins. Your baby may repeat the sounds you make.
12–17 months Your child seeks attention or tries to direct attention to something in the environment. She can follow simple directions with gestures. First words develop. Some children will attempt combining two or more words.
18–23 months Children demand desired objects or request an action by pointing, gesturing, or using words. Although your child uses words, they may not be clear. The child understands simple requests without gestures and verbs like “eat” and “sleep.”
2–3 years Your child is using about 50 words. At age 2, your child is beginning to understand and use words for spatial concepts (in, on) pronouns (mine, you) and descriptive words (big, happy.)


Speech Sound Development

Children develop speech and language in a variety of ways.. One theory of sound development divides the sounds of English into the “Early Eight, the “Middle Eight” and the “Late Eight.” This model recognizes that children differ in the age they acquire these sounds. But many kids follow the same general developmental sequence.
Here’s the sequence in which these consonant sounds typically develop:

Early Eight Middle Eight Late Eight
























Vowel sounds are some of the earliest ones heard from infants. This is because the vowel sounds are produced with a fairly open vocal tract. Just by vocalizing, your baby is producing the earliest sounds that will become speech! Imitating your baby’s sounds becomes some of the earliest “conversations” you have with your child.

Speech and Language Development Delays

speech-and-language-development-delays Seven percent of children are “late talkers.” They have what is called specific language impairment (SLI). Children with SLI are typical in just about every way. For example, they share typical understanding, hearing, motor skills and social-emotional development with their peers.

But by age two, children with SLI have fewer than 50 words and just a few two-word sentences. The expressive language of some of these late talkers will eventually resemble their same-age peers. However, many of these children will continue to have trouble with acquiring expressive vocabulary. Early intervention therapy has been shown to be effective in helping these children in acquiring speech and language.

Related Articles
Developmental Milestones: Communication

Links & Resources
Rescorla, L. & Ratner, N.B. (1996) “Phonetic profiles of toddlers with specific expressive language impairment (SLI-E)”. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 39, 153-165.

Lof, G.L. (2004) “Confusion about speech norms and their use.” Thinking Publications Online Conference.