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Marking the Stages in Infant Language Development

written by: jennyflores • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 9/6/2012

The ability to communicate through language is unique to humans. What are the language milestones we should be watching for? What are some things we can do as caregivers to help develop language skills in infants?

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    Language Milestones and Developmental Activities

    More than any other skill, the ability to communicate effectively is key to successful participation in our world. It gives us a way to express ideas and emotions and to get our needs met. It is critical to understand that communication is a two-way street and that each skill acts as the foundation for the next skill. The most important time in a child's life for language development is during the first three years. When crying brings food and comfort, the infant has been successful at their first attempt to communicate. If cries are not responded to, the baby will not be able to learn this first lesson of communication.

    As the jaw, lips, tongue, and voice mature, an infant will be able to control sounds. This happens within the first few months with a soft, cooing sound. It is important to understand that all children develop at different rates but there are significant milestones in language development.

    From the first day home you can expect the infant to cry when he hears unexpected noises, become still when he hears new sounds, and make a variety of sounds himself. It is extremely important to be responsive to the infant's cries and to speak to your baby often. Studies show that most children can recognize the basic sounds of their native language by six months of age if consistently exposed to new sounds, and the speech and language of others.

    From 1-3 months of age, your infant will look and smile at you when you are talking. She will stop what she is doing when she hears a new voice, and her crying will stop or lessen when she hears a familiar voice.

    At 4-6 months of age, your baby will begin responding to the word "no," but don't expect him to remember it for more than a few seconds at a time. Your child will begin to notice and respond to changes in your voice and new noises around him. This is usually the time you will hear his first word. It may feel awkward to talk with someone who can't talk back but it is important to talk to your baby about your daily routine and to supply words for items commonly used by your child. This is a good age to begin signing with your baby, as the desire and ability to communicate develops before the muscles and control needed for speech do.

    Between 7 and 12 months of age, you can expect your child to respond when called by her name. She will use gestures to communicate, and babies enjoy playing word games such as "Pat-a-Cake" and "So Big." They will begin to string together two-word sentences and love to imitate animal sounds.

    By taking an active part in communicating with your baby you are laying the foundation for a lifetime of confident communication and a love of language. It is truly a gift that will affect him for the rest of his life.