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Speech and language development

Information about children's speech and language development.

Children's language develops at different rates. Below is some information about what to expect at each stage of their development and how to access help.

Babies

Babies can hear and recognise voices even before they are born. They learn to understand language by looking and listening, and begin to have a go at making some sounds themselves (we often call this ‘babbling'). They understand simple commands and begin to use meaningful words around 12–18 months.

There are many reasons as to why a baby may have difficulties with learning to communicate. For instance, they may be delayed in starting to talk because of trouble hearing or because of a developmental disorder such as autism. Sometimes they are just a little later than others in their development and will catch up. Often, there is not a clear cause.

It is important to track your child’s speech and language development so that problems can be identified early. An infant who isn't responding to sound or who isn't vocalising may require professional attention.

If you have already used the online ages and stages progress checker and you are still worried, speak to your health visitor, doctor or your local speech and language therapist.

Pre-school children

By 2 years of age a child should be using some single words and perhaps beginning to string words together e.g. ‘more juice’, though their words are likely to be unclear. By 3 years you would expect the child to be saying more and using longer sentences, though again some sounds may not be clear. By 4 years old, your child should be mostly understood, even by people who don't know them, though one or two sounds still may not be fully developed.

Some children have difficulties with the underlying communication skills of listening, concentrating, making eye contact and taking turns. These skills are important for speech and language to develop properly. Giving your child the opportunity to learn basic social skills at a playgroup or nursery can be highly beneficial.

There are many reasons as to why a child may have difficulties with learning to communicate. For instance, a child may have a language delay because of trouble hearing or because of a developmental disorder such as autism. Often, there is not a clear cause.

If you have already used the online ages and stages progress checker and you are still worried, speak to your health visitor, doctor or your local speech and language therapist, who can conduct a detailed assessment.

Infant school children

In order to learn, a child of primary school age should be able to listen and concentrate and be able to hold a conversation. Children are now developing more complex language and thinking skills. They can now share ideas and give opinions. Speech should be clear (with the exception of ‘r’ and ‘th’ which may not yet be articulated correctly) though their use of grammar might not be fully developed, for example they might say ‘runned’ instead of ‘ran’ and ‘mans’ instead of ‘men’.

There are many reasons as to why a child may have difficulties developing speech, language and communication skills. For instance, a child may have a language delay because of trouble hearing or because of a developmental disorder such as autism. Often, there is not a clear cause.

Speech and language difficulties can affect reading and writing and overall academic progress. If you have already used the online ages and stages progress checker and you are still worried, speak to your health visitor, doctor or your local speech and language therapist, who can conduct a detailed assessment.

Junior school children

A child of junior age should now be able to understand and use more complex language, for example to explain, predict, give opinions and work out complex problems. Their speech should be clear and easy to follow. Speech is increasingly important in developing friendships and following social rules of language.

There are many reasons as to why a child may have difficulties developing speech, language and communication skills. For instance, a child may have a language delay because of trouble hearing or because of a developmental disorder such as autism. However, more often there is no a clear cause.

Speech and language difficulties can affect reading and writing and overall academic progress.

If you have any concerns, please speak with your child’s teacher and use the online ages and stages progress checker. If you are still worried, speak to your health visitor, doctor or your local speech and language therapist, who can conduct a detailed assessment.

Secondary school children

A young person in secondary school should be able to understand, and use complex speech and language skills to communicate with others and build effective relationships. They are able to understand increasingly complex instructions, hold conversations well, negotiate ideas and give opinions. They can also understand and use higher level language such as humour and sarcasm.

Where a young person has speech, language or communication difficulties, parents/carers can help by supporting them and working with school and other professionals to help them reach their potential. Some young people have speech, language and communication needs which are lifelong. It is likely that speech and language difficulties were identified at an earlier age, though not always.

There are many reasons as to why a young person may have speech, language or communication needs. This may be related to generalised learning difficulties or as part of another condition such as autism or hearing impairment. Some students may need some support for a stammer or a voice disorder. Often there is not a clear cause.

If the young person is concerned about their speech, their doctor, school nurse or local speech and language therapy service may be able to help.