What Are the Stages of Language Development?

When you have a baby, you are naturally excited about hearing them say their first words – an event that usually occurs between one and twelve months of age. By the time your child is two years old, they will likely be able to speak simple phrases, with complete sentences making their appearance around three. By five years old, most children have developed basic language skills that empower them to communicate most concepts. Here are the stages they’ll go through to get to that point.

Stages of Language Development

Pre-linguistic stage

Your child is in a “pre-speech” stage during their first year of life. Even in this stage, however, children are developing language skills, such as learning gestures, understanding eye contact, exchanging sounds between infant and caregiver, and babbling, cooing, and crying. If you’ve heard your child make sounds like “mama” or “dada,” these are pre-speech sounds and a good sign that your little one is developing normally. 

One-word sentences

Between 10 and 13 months of age, most children reach this stage. The child generally utters just one word at a time, but its meaning is expanded on by the context as well as non-verbal cues. For example, a baby might point to their bottle and say, “botty.” The caregiving adult understands this one-word sentence to mean “I want my bottle now” – a complete sentence. Another example might be “Mama,” a one-word sentence that might mean, “Mommy, please come to me; I need help.”

Two-word sentences

Around 18 months of age, children reach the stage of language development where they can put two words together to make their meaning even clearer. This ability empowers the child the form sentences that are either imperative, declarative, interrogative, or negative. For example, your toddler might say:

 

  • “More milk!” (imperative)
  • “Kitty soft” (declarative)
  • “Where blanket?” (interrogative)
  • “No bed” (negative)

 

Especially when two-word sentences are accompanied by nonverbal cues, as they often are, you can usually discern more complex meanings. 

Multiple-word sentences

Children reach this stage anywhere between two and two-and-a-half years of age. These more complex sentences can contain complete sentences with subjects and predicates; they may also include prefixes or suffixes to express changes in tenses or meanings. For example, you might hear a child around this age say:

  • “I want more milk.”
  • “Kitty is soft.”
  • “Where is blanket?”
  • “I catched it.” 

Ironically, the linguistic error in the last example demonstrates that the child understands the underlying grammatical principle. 

More complex grammatical structures

From two-and-a-half to three years of age, children develop the ability to use more complex and intricate grammatical structures. They’ll add elements such as conjunctions and prepositions, such as in the following examples:

  • “Take me to the store.”
  • “I can’t play now.”
  • “Where is Daddy?”
  • “Read my book.”

Adult-like language structures

Once a child reaches five to six years of age, they generally start using more complex grammatical structures, and you’ll be able to make more complex structural distinctions. Kids are beginning to understand certain concepts, such as “ask/tell” and changing the order of the words in a sentence to suit. Sentences you may hear your child utter around this age include:

  • “Ask Mom what time it is.”
  • “You promised you would help me.”

How Encinitas Learning Center Can Help

At Encinitas Learning Center, we offer a range of academic, emotional, and social support to help our students succeed. One of our areas of focus is speech and language development, including verbal and written expressive language, accent reduction, dyslexia testing, and support, auditory processing disorder support, and reading skills. We believe that every student is unique, so we use a tailored approach to help each child develop to his or her optimum potential. Don’t hesitate to contact us to learn more or to schedule a meeting. 

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