Look Who's Talking
Language development is a special time. Hearing your child go from his first words to his first rendition of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" to his first knock knock joke, is an amazing process. Enjoy his development and celebrate each new achievement.
When a child is born, parents eagerly anticipate a variety of milestones: the first smile, the first words, the first step. Every new mother and father knows children communicate their emotions and needs long before spoken language appears on the horizon. Thus, although speech is a distinguishing feature of mankind, communication between individuals involves more than mere words. This article:
- explains the development of communication
- offers guidance for parents wanting to encourage their child's speech
- provides information about possible speech delays
- offers suggestions about what to do if your child has a language problem
How communication is related to language
We take for granted the role communication plays in our daily lives - from how we learn to how we interact socially. Both professionals and parents know that early communication skills provide the foundation for development of later, more advanced skills and integration into the world of both play and work. However, communication does not depend on age alone, but on different abilities, physical development, and the accumulation of experiences.
Infants communicate from the moment they are born - for example, crying when they are hungry, smiling when they are content. Thus communication involves more than just talking and the development of communication starts long before speech is established. In general, communication is the synthesis of three different components:
- Receptive language: what we understand. Receptive language refers to the input system of language. It is the comprehension of information based on what we see and hear. Receptive language skills begin as early as birth and get stronger with each stage of development.
- Expressive language: how we verbalize . Expressive language can be seen as the output system of language. It refers to how information - thoughts and feelings - is expressed. The development of different sounds and combinations of sounds to form words enables knowledge to be expressed and shared with others. Expressive language becomes more complex as the child increases the variety of sound combinations and word combinations, and adds the rules of syntax and grammar to make "output" more elaborate and meaningful.
- Nonverbal skills: gestures and facial expression. We cannot discuss aspects of language without including the development of the many nonverbal ways one obtains and provides feedback. Gestures and facial expressions as well as body language influence how our messages are perceived. Children learn to use nonverbal language skills long before they are able to verbally produce words that convey meaning to their listener.
Children develop language skills at an astounding rate. Amazingly, all these skills begin to develop in the newborn/infant stage, and rapidly progress in the first few years of life. A child of one month can respond to voices, at three months can coo in response to pleasant sounds, and at four months can turn to find the sound source in a room. He will use pointing and reaching to indicate needs, use facial expressions to show happiness, defiance, and confusion, and he will imitate and emulate his parent's actions/speech patterns. Within the next year that same child will move from these simple skills to putting sounds together to create his first words to mastering a vocabulary of 100 words. By age three a child has an understanding of close to 50,000 words, and generally has most of the communicative skills needed to function in society.
Reprinted with the permission of the NYU Child Study Center. © NYU Child Study Center.
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