All animals have ways of communicating with each other. However, no other animal can come close to the complex language system that humans use. The emergence of language that we experience in our children is fascinating. They seem to go from saying just a few short words to speaking in complete sentences in a very short time.
Research in recent years has proven that language development begins before birth. When the fetus is in the womb, the unborn child can identify the sound patterns of the mother's speech. Expectant mothers often coo and speak baby talk toward their tummies, so perhaps they know this instinctively.
Studies have shown that babies around four months old can discriminate between the various sounds that humans produce in any language. However, this ability diminishes around 10 months of age and babies only will recognize sounds spoken in the language that they are immersed in.
Children begin to utter single words at different rates. As a general rule, children of age three years have a vocabulary of about 3,000 words. Parents should always keep in mind that speech development varies from child to child.
Babbling is the first stage in speech. It begins as infants make the sounds of consonants which have the fewest features in common such as oral-nasal /m/ and /p/, stop-fricatives such as /f/ and labial-dental /p/ and /t/.
Children first learn to produce the front consonants sounds /p/ and /m/ and /b/. When parents hear their babies babbling these sounds they are sure the baby is trying to say "mummy", "daddy" of perhaps "pappa." This may not be the case for the babbling three-month-old. One could also theorize that this is where the names come from. This theory seems plausible when one considers how similar the words for mums and dads are in the languages of the world.
Children learn to produce the back consonant sounds next, such as /k/ and /g/. The vowel sounds are acquired next, followed by consonant clusters and blends. In some children, all blends sounds may not be mastered until age seven or eight.
Some researchers believe that the development of language is an inherent human trait and that everyone is born with the necessary abilities to vocalise. Others explain the acquisition of language in more behavioral terms. These researchers say that children learn language through a process of imitation and reinforcement.
In either case, parents facilitate the learning of language in children. In all languages, parents have a sort of instinctive way of speaking to babies. This infant-directed speech is called "motherese" and is more commonly known as "baby talk." They use a higher pitched voice while speaking shortened sentences. For example, the sentence "it's time to go" becomes "go bye-bye." This type of speech proves to be more effective in gaining an infant's attention and helping them to develop language. They will learn words faster and easier when motherese is spoken. Quite naturally, as children grow older, parents adjust the speech they direct at children to be age suitable.
Please be aware that the articles on this site are written by mothers who are discussing their own experiences and their own opinions. They do not, and are not meant to, represent professional advice and should be read with that point firmly in mind.
Our children’s welfare is paramount; if you are ever in the slightest doubt about any aspect of caring for a child you are urged to seek qualified, specialist advice from a professional advisor.