Childhood Development

Different Stages of Speech Development in Children

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Speech development is an important component in the development process of a child and it spans from birth to almost three years, and from there onwards, it becomes an individualistic process. However, in general, the first eight years of life are the most important time in life for speech development.

The importance of knowing the stages of speech development:

Although there are recognized stages in which speech development takes place, not all children will spend the same amount of time in each of these stages. Personal characteristics, environmental stimulation, diseases related to hearing and vocalization as well as many other factors can influence the rate of speech development. Thus, it necessitates the parents and caregivers to stay informed on how to detect a possible developmental delay as early as possible to intervene at the appropriate time.

Stages of speech development in children:

Demarcation of stages in speech development may vary from one source to another. However, the characteristic features noted in each of these stages would most likely to be same. At the same time, it is impossible to discuss the development of speech alone as it goes hand in hand with the development of language. Therefore, this article discusses the development of language and speech in a child according to following demarcations.

-Pre-linguistic stage (0 – 12 months)

In the first year of life, babies will learn to communicate with others and by the end of 12 months, the child will be able to communicate through pointing and showing while they understand some of the gestures and commands directed at them. During this stage, following developmental sub-stages are recognizable.

 -0-3 months

During this time, the infant will cry in response to hunger, distress, and tiredness while coos and gurgles will become apparent when content. The baby will recognize the tones of its caregivers and will be able to respond to faces with a smile.

-6 months

By this time, the baby will babble using short sounds such as ‘da da, ma ma’. Laughs and chuckles will be a regular occurrence although crying will persist to communicate distress in most instances. At 6 months, experts believe that, babies will understand emotions and will enjoy music to a certain extent.

-9 months

Babbling continues extensively and at times the baby will try to imitate certain simple words. They can recognize their own name and will start to point in response to what they hear.

-12 months

This is the peak of the pre-linguistic stage and by this time, the child will be able to use one or more words with meaning. Furthermore, they can understand simple instructions, which accompany vocal and physical cues. They will make use of gestures to ask for things and they tend to understand more than what they can speak by this time.

-Linguistic stage (15 months to 8 years)

During the time between 15 months to 8 years, children will gradually master the skill of using words together and they will start by making use of single words to address several things through altering their tone. By 15 months, a child will make use of about 10 words in his or her vocabulary, which the caregivers can understand.

-18 months

Making of simple two word sentences starts to appear at around 18 months and the vocabulary will increase up to 10 - 20 words as well. An important point is that, most of these words will belong to ‘nouns’. At the same time, they will use names to label parts of the body and objects in a limited manner while repeating of words and sentences also become apparent.

-2 years

The speed at which a child learns words will gain pace and will develop the ability to speak in plurals. Asking questions will be common during this time and the sentences will appear longer. It is said that a 2 year old can understand ‘two step’ commands such as ‘pick up the ball and place it on the chair’, while he or she will start using ‘me’ and ‘mine’ more often and meaningfully.

-3 years

By three years, the child will pronounce I, you and me correctly whereas some plurals and past tenses will appear in their language. They can possess a vocabulary of around 1000 words and would handle sentences with three words rather easily. The sentences they make will contain four or more words and it is also the time they begin to understand nursery rhymes. They will talk to themselves while playing and will overwhelm the caregivers with questions most of the time.

-4 years

By four years of age, the vocabulary should be extensive and the sentences are longer and more complex with increasing accuracy. Four year olds will be able to narrate stories and describe a sequence of events that took place. The speech will be fully recognizable to even the strangers.

-5 years

These children will have an extensive vocabulary and would be able to express opinions during discussions. Although they may have incorrect use of grammar when speaking, the sentences are largely correct in its structure and use. By this time, the child will speak about shapes, colors and numbers and the questioning would become more precise.

-6 years

The child will classify objects according to color, form, and use while they can pronounce correctly while understanding opposites. The vocabulary is expected to be at, or around, 13,000 words although this can vary from child to child.

-7 years

Children at 7 years will understand time intervals and seasons of the year while they recognize mistakes in other people’s speech.

-8 years

Children at this age will gather phrases such as ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ while using the same appropriately. They will form complex and compound sentences much easily and will carry on meaningful conversations with adult speakers. At the same time, they can read age appropriate text and write simple compositions themselves.


As described above, there can be many different stages recognized in a child’s speech development although not all children will follow the same sequence or stay at the same stage for equal amounts of time. Therefore, parents and caregivers should understand these stages and when a child fails to gain what was expected and deviates from their peers, acquiring professional help will be a prudent decision.

More about this author: Dr Pandula Siribaddana

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