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Speech and Language Development


Topic Overview

What is speech and language development?

Speech and language are the skills we use to communicate with others. We form these skills during the first years of life. By age 6, most children learn the basics. Try to talk and read to your child often to boost these skills.

What is the difference between speech and language?

Speech is making the sounds that become words-the physical act of talking.

Language is our system of using words to communicate. It has two parts: using words and gestures to say what we mean, and understanding what others say.

When do speech and language begin?

Infants start learning in the womb, where they hear and respond to familiar voices. The fastest learning occurs at ages 2 to 5 years of age.

Speech and language milestones help tell whether a child is developing as expected. Milestones are certain skills, such as babbling, saying "mama" or "dada," or putting two words together. Usually, a child needs to master one milestone before reaching the next.

Babies usually start cooing at around 2 months and are babbling by about 6 months. A child usually speaks in gibberish, called jargon, by the first birthday. At 15 to 18 months, a typical toddler understands much more than he or she is able to put into words. This lag in spoken language is often followed by a burst of talking between 18 and 24 months.

Keep in mind that the age at which children reach milestones varies from child to child. Some children, especially girls, are advanced. Others develop more slowly.

What helps a child learn speech and language?

A child who is surrounded by speech and language all the time usually learns language skills faster. Talking to and reading to your child will have a big effect on how well your child is able to communicate later. Children who are seldom spoken to or read to usually learn to talk later than other children their age.

Why do speech and language problems develop in some children?

Some types of hearing loss can cause speech delay. All children with a speech delay should have their hearing tested. Developmental disorders such as autism can also cause a delay.

It's important to track your child's speech and language development. A child can overcome many speech and language problems with treatment, especially when you catch problems early.

Speech and language problems are estimated to occur in about 6 out of 100 children.1 That means that 94 out of 100 children develop normally.

When should you talk to your child's doctor?

Your doctor will check your child's speech and language skills during regular well-child visits. But call your doctor anytime you have concerns about how your child is developing.

Mild and temporary speech delays can occur. Some children learn new words faster than others do. But if your child is not saying words by 18 months, or says fewer than 50 words by 24 months, talk to your doctor.

Frequently Asked Questions

Learning about speech and language development:

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