From birth infants make and respond to many sounds. Crying, gurgling, and cooing are important first steps in the language-learning process.


All of the sounds found in all languages are encompassed in children's first babbling. Gradually, babbling becomes more specific with native language syllables being consistently practiced. Before the end of their first year, children engage in pseudo-language, babbling that mimics the native language in its intonation and form.


The first word evolves to many single words or syllables that stand for a variety of meaningful sentences or phrases in different situations. Car said while looking out the window may mean, "Look at the car outside"; car said while standing next to the toy shelf may mean, "I want my toy car." A vocabulary of holophrases enables children to communicate with familiar caregivers. Children use successive holophrases to increase their communicative power: Car (pause) go to indicate "I want to go for a ride."

Two-Word Sentences

Two-word sentences appear between eighteen and twenty months of age and express ideas concerning relationships: "Mommy sock" (possessor-possession), "Cat sleeping" (actor-action), "Drink milk" (action-object), and so on. A vocabulary of about 300 words is typical.

Telegraphic Sentences

The next stage of language are sentences that are short and simple. Similar to a telegram, they omit function words and endings that contribute little to meaning: "Where Daddy go?" "Me push truck."

Joined Sentences

As language development proceeds, children join related sentences logically and express ideas concerning time and spatial relationships. They come to understand social expectations for language use and begin to use adult forms of language. Vocabularies expand rapidly, the ability to use words increases, and children intuitively acquire many of the rules of language. By age three children have vocabularies of nearly 1,000 words.


As children become more sophisticated in their language, they overgeneralize rules in ways that are inconsistent with common usage; for example, "I comed home" for "I came home" (sometimes called creative grammar). Correct forms are temporarily replaced as rules are internalized.

Source: Who Am I in the Lives of Children? Sixth Edition by S. Feeney, D. Christensen, and E. Moravcik, © 2000. Reprinted by permission of Prentice-Hall, Inc., Upper Saddle River, NJ.