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Language Development in Early Childhood

Updated on February 27, 2013

Babies don't just begin learning to speak from the moment they are born. Language development begins before a child is born.

Researchers have found that a fetus can recognize the speech of their mother's voice.

As soon as they enter enter the world, children have an urge to communicate. Communication is a code and young children want to know how to crack that code.

"In order to make sense of words and sentences, young language learners need to make attempts to crack the code for themselves," says Belinda Buckley, author of Children's Communication Skills: From Birth to Five Years. "An essential prerequisite, therefore, is the desire to communicate with others."

Theories of language development

There are different ideas about how language development occurs in children.

  • The nativist theory of Noam Chomsky suggests that we are all born with something which enables us to learn language. His idea was that all children are born with a language acquisition device. This LAD is what allows children produce language once they have learned the vocabulary they need.
  • The empiricist theory, however, argues that children get enough language input, so they don't need an innate language acquisition device. According to this theory, children need to actively engage with their environment in order to learn language.
  • The behaviorist theory of B.F. Skinner, meanwhile, suggests that language develops as a result of imitation and reinforcement.

Parents and Language

According to the empiricist theory, parents play a big part in their children's language development. Parents use 'baby talk' when they talk to their new born children. This 'baby talk' is common in all languages. This style of speaking uses high-pitched intonation, simplified vocabulary, shortened sentences and exaggerated expressions.

This way of speaking to young children has been shown to be more effective at getting the attention of a young child. It also helps children with language development. Researchers think that babies learn words faster and easier because of this 'baby talk'. As children grow, parents adapt the way they speak accordingly. As their one grows up, so the parents change the way they talk to them.

The First Year

Before their first words, children do plenty of interacting with the world. They cry, squeal, bang things together, blow raspberries, smile, frown and babble. There is lots of communication and language development going on.

  • Between one to three months, babies start smiling.
  • Babies babble and make simple sounds.
  • Between 4-6 months, little ones gurgle to show they are happy.They also begin to repeat simple sound combinations, such as 'dada' or 'baba.' This babbling can sounds like the babies own language. It sounds like they are talking to you.
  • Eventually, the babbling changes into words, such as 'mama' and 'dada.'

The Second Year

  • They have a vocabulary of about 150-300 words.
  • They can use simple two-three word combinations and start making simple sentences.
  • They can understand simple commands and ask basic questions: 'What's that?'
  • They can use some prepositions: in, on, under.
  • They can use the pronouns I, me and you. However, me and I are sometimes confused.
  • Pronunciation is becoming clearer.

The Third Year

  • They have a vocabulary of about 900-1000 words.
  • They are beginning to use complete 2-4 word sentences to communicate with other people in the family.
  • They start to understand and use adjectives.
  • They are starting to use plurals and past tenses.
  • They can understand most simple questions relating to their environment or things they do.

The Fourth Year

  • They can speak in full sentences using four-five words.
  • Their vocabulary now includes abstract concepts.
  • They can understand ideas such as bigger or smaller.
  • They can use at least four prepositions.
  • They can usually repeat four syllable words.
  • Pronunciation is usually clear. However, some children show signs of difficulties or stuttering.

The Fifth Year

  • They can construct reasonably lengthy sentences, which are correctly structured and use proper grammar.
  • They can tell stories and recount events in order.
  • They can use descriptive words such as adjectives and adverbs.
  • They know opposites (hard-soft, big-little).
  • They should be able to grasp simple time concepts (morning, afternoon, tomorrow, yesterday, today, later, after).
  • Numbers from one to ten should not be a problem.
  • They can define common objects, saying what they are used for.
  • They should be able to pronounce most sounds correctly. They should have all vowels and consonants. Some children still have difficulties. If your child continues to have difficulty with certain words, it might be an idea to consider sessions with a speech therapist.


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    • dilipchandra12 profile image

      Dilip Chandra 4 years ago from India

      Excellent work. Very interesting and informative hub. Very well written and very well organized. I have learnt so many things from your work, especially those theories.

      Very good information was included, year after the year how the language develops was explained very well. Thanks for sharing. Voted UP and shared!

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 4 years ago from New York

      This is a very interesting hub about language development. I found the different theories especially interesting as I think it is probably more a combination of the three that leads children to talk.

      I have a three year old grandson that speaks like a college professor! Example, "I don't want Grandma to go home, I will miss her." I think his language development was encouraged by not using baby talk. He was always talked to like an adult and has responded and developed beyond his years. I realize not all children will respond the same way but I think baby talk can interfere with language development.

      Theories are interesting to learn and know about but nothing beats experience.

      Voted up, useful, and very interesting.