Language Development - What You Need To Know


Chelsea Dries

Blog category: 


Did you know there are two ways to process and develop language?

These are analytic language development and natural (gestalt) language development.

Children with analytic language development will learn single sounds and words as building blocks to produce sentences, while children with gestalt language development will process language in ‘whole chunks’.

In this blog post, wewill be focusing on our analytic language developers. Stay tuned for future posts that will discuss gestalt language development.

About Milestones

Researchers have analysed the typical development patterns of children, to come up with 'milestones' - these are the skills that we typically expect to see in children at different ages. Milestones are used as a guide to determine whether children are developing their skills at the expected ages. Remember, every child is different, so milestones are a guide, not a rule! If you're concerned about your child's development, it's best to seek professional advice (reach out to your friendly neighbourhood Speechie!) for guidance about where your child's development is up to.

Expressive Language Skills

Expressive language is all about our ability to use words and sentences to express our thoughts and ideas.

Meeting the Milestones:

At 12 months, my child can:

·        Babble sounds

·        Copy different sounds

·        Start to use words

·        Use sounds and gestures to communicate

At 18 months, my child can:

·        Use 6-20 single words

·        Copy lots of words and noises

·        Name some body parts

·        Use objects in pretend play

At 2 years, my child can:

·        Use more than 50 single words

·        Use two words together (e.g. bye daddy)

·        Change their tone of voice to ask a question

·        Say 'no'

·        Start to use pronouns 'mine' and 'my'

At 3 years, my child can:

·        Use 4-5 words in sentences

·        Use a variety of words for names, actions, locations and descriptions

·        Ask ‘what’, ‘where’ and ‘who’ questions

·        Use past tense ‘-ed’ (even if it's not grammatically correct!)(“he jumped", "he goed”)

·        Have short conversations

At 4 years, my child can:

·        Use longer sentences

·        Use ‘and’, ‘but’, ‘because’

·        Describe recent events

·        Ask a LOT of questions!

·        Use pronouns (‘he’, ‘she’, ‘me’, ‘you’)

·        Use negation (‘don’t’, ‘can’t’)

·        Count to 5

·        Name some colours

At 5 years, my child can:

·        Form full sentences and be understood by most listeners

·        Take turns in conversations

·        Tell simple stories

·        Use past and future verbs

Receptive Language Skills

Receptive language is all about our ability to understand information.

Meeting the Milestones:

At 12 months, my child can:

·         Recognise some familiar people and objects

·         Understand about 10 words

·         Respond to their name

·         Make eye contact

·         Recognise greetings and gestures, e.g. 'hi', 'bye'

At 18 months, my child can:

·         Understand up to 50 words

·         Follow simple instructions

·         Point to familiar objects

·         Point to some pictures in familiar books

At 2 years, my child can:

·         Follow simple two-part instructions

·         Respond to simple 'what' and 'where' questions

·         Point to body parts and pictures in books

·         Understand concepts 'in' and 'on'

At 3 years, my child can:

·         Follow more complex two-part instructions

·         Understand simple 'what', 'where', 'who' questions

·         Understand concepts same and different

·         Sort items into groups (e.g. toys vs. food)

·         Recognise some basic colours


At 4 years, my child can:

·         Answer most questions about daily tasks

·         Understand most wh- questions

·         Understand some numbers

·         Understand sound relationships (e.g. that some words start with the same sound)

At 5 years, my child can:

·         Understand time words e.g. now, later, before, after

·         Understand instructions without stopping to think

·         Follow three-part instructions

·         Start thinking about word meanings

·         Begin to recognise letters, sounds, and numbers


How to Stimulate Language in Everyday Situations

Self Talk

This involves talking about what you're doing for your child's benefit. You can do this during a play activity with your child, or talking about how you're making dinner.

Self-talk provides your child with exposure to the language used in particular contexts. It provides a model of the act of speaking while making no demands on the child to even listen, and is useful for children who don't interact much, or are reluctant to imitate your words.

Example: "I'm getting a spoon out of the drawer. I'm stirring the soup. The soup's in a saucepan. I'm getting out 2 plates. I'm pouring the soup into the bowls. We sit at the table…"

Parallel Talk

This involves talking about what your child is doing. Instead of directing your child's play, talk about what they're playing with.

Use simple language (i.e. short sentences, that a young child is likely to use) to talk about your child's actions.

Example: "You have a red truck.  You're driving the truck. It's driving past some trees. It stopped. It turns the corner. You have a plane. It flies in the air. There's people in it. Oh, one fell out…"


This involves repeating what your child said, but adding the appropriate grammar.

Because the sentence you have said is very close to what your child was attempting to say,it should be easier for your child to understand what you have said and attempt to learn and use the appropriate grammar.

Example:      Child:      (putting a doll into a cot) "baby sleep"

                       Parent:    "the baby is sleeping" / "you put the baby to sleep".


This involves repeating what your child said, but extending its meaning by adding some new and relevant information.

This acknowledges to your child that you have heard what they said, and provides new information and language similar to what they have said. This allows them to learn new language, and learn how to construct more complex phrases and sentences.

Example:      Child:      "baby sleep"

                       Parent:    "she is very tired" / "baby needs to go to sleep".


Recast Sentences

This involves changing the format of what your child has said. For example, If your child makes a comment or statement, you can change the information provided into a question.

This exposes them to new language, and helps them to learn new ways of saying things.

Example:      Child:      "Dolly sick"               

                       Parent:    "Is she sick?"           


Build-Ups and Breakdowns

This involves first expanding the child's sentence (build-up) and then breaking it down into its individual parts.

This technique may be the most difficult, but is also the most beneficial to your child, as it shows them many different ways of saying a message.

Example:      Child:      "baby sleep"

                       Parent:     "Yes, the baby is sleeping

                                          She is sleeping in the bed

                                          Sleeping in the bed

                                          In the bed

                                          The baby is sleeping in the bed"

Follow the Leader

Many children prefer to engage in their own activities rather than participate in parent-led games. Instead of trying to create a new activity, join in with what your child is already engaged in and add language to what they are doing. This will make language learning meaningful and interesting for your child.

Where to from here?

If you have questions about your child's language development, get in touch with us! One of our friendly team will be happy to chat to you, answer your questions, and give you advice for your next steps.

Click Here

Don't miss these stories:

Drop us a Line

To send us an email, please fill out the form below and we will get back to you as soon as possible.

Thanks for contacting Leaps & Bounds Speech Pathology.

Your submission has been received and a member of our team will get back to you shortly.

Hmm! Something went wrong?!

Please try sending the form again.