Why Should I Know the Language Milestones?

(Transcript of video) Is there a way to know if your child’s language is on track? Yes, you can ask friends, family, and other parents in forums what their experience has been but you’ll only be learning about each individual child’s experience. So how can you know if your child’s language is d? That’s where language milestones come in. A milestone is a skill that a child develops around a certain age. We don’t expect a six month old baby to walk because developmentally, that’s not appropriate. The milestone for those first steps is actually between 12-14 months. Yes, some children may take the first steps at 11 months and others at 15 months, but if your child is 15 months and they’re still not walking, then we would know there is a delay in their movement, or gross motor skills.  These same types of milestones exist for language. We don’t expect a one year old child to speak in complete sentences, because again, that’s just not how language development works. The milestones for language measure the age range when certain skills should appear. And it’s a range, typically, of a few months because every child is different. And if your child isn’t meeting their milestones, then it’s a good idea to speak with your pediatrician. Why? So that you can uncover the reason, or the possible reason, behind your child’s language delay. Is it related to their hearing? Is there a genetic factor behind their late talking?   Late talking can even be due to environmental exposure. We’ve heard of certain cities in the United States having contaminated water and sadly lead poisoning can impact language development. I’m not saying any of this to make you paranoid about your current levels of metals in your household or your genes! Instead, I want you to become curious about your child’s development, ask questions, and work with your doctor and a speech therapist if you’re concerned.

What about bilingualism and language delays?

There are certain language milestones that are broader and that all children reach whether they speak one language or three. And again, a milestone means that by the end of that age range, most children, about 90% of children, have that skill.Some universal speech and language milestones are that babies babble between four to seven months, first words come in at around twelve to fifteen months. By two years of age, children can combine two words in a phrase like, “want cookie” or “go park”. And, if your child is already learning two languages, it’s very normal that they’ll mix the two languages together and say things like, “Quiero cookie.” This isn’t a sign of a language delay and is very normal in bilingual language development. A child by two years of age will have a total of fifty words. But, we have to make sure that we add up the words in both languages. We count animal sounds among those words, baby signs, and partial words, meaning words that your child can’t quite pronounce but do have a clear meaning like coo-coo for cookie.

If your child hears and speaks mostly Spanish, then we’d expect that most of his words will be in Spanish and some will be in English. But make sure you add up all of their words in both languages. Now, more specific milestones about when each sound is acquired and when a child will master certain grammatical structures really depend on the amount of exposure they have in that language. But the broader milestones, which I share in an earlier blog post and which I’ll link below, are milestones we expect for a child no matter how many languages they speak.

What if my child isn’t reaching their milestones?

If your child isn’t reaching his language milestones, it’s important to speak with your pediatrician. Here in the US, a pediatrician will refer you to a speech therapist. But, I have heard occasionally of pediatricians who tell parents to wait and see. Why do I think this is a bad idea? Yes, studies do show that most children outgrow a language a delay and do catch up to their peers by the time that they’re five years of age so long as the only area of concern was their expressive language.  But, if there are other areas of concern such as their understanding of language, a lot of difficulty with pronunciation, or difficulties with social communication then most children will continue to need support when they are five and older. And you may not know if these areas that I just mentioned are also affected unless your child is evaluated by a speech therapist. But, even though most children grow out of a language delay, 20-30% do not catch up and can struggle with their reading and writing once they enter elementary school. It’s very difficult to predict who will naturally outgrow a language delay and who won’t. Research shows that the earlier a child with a language delay receives services, the better.

So, over the next few weeks, I’m going to go over some of the broad developmental milestones in different areas of language development: receptive language, or what a child understands, expressive language, or the language a child speaks, speech which is pronunciation of sounds and the sounds that a little child makes, and social communication which is how children use language to communicate with others.

If you don’t have my handout already on speech and language milestones for children birth to five, you can click on the link below Know the Milestones!

Remember, this vlog doesn’t intend to offer medical advice! Please seek out an expert in speech and language development near you should you have concerns!

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Articles on Late Talking and Milestones

Girolametto, L., Pearce, P. S., & Weitzman, E. (1996). Interactive focused stimulation for toddlers with expressive vocabulary delays. Journal of Speech and Hearing Research, 39, 1274–1283.

Ellis EM, Thal DJ. (2008) Early language delay and risk for language impairment. Perspect Lang Learn Ed., 15(3): 93-100