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Speech & Language

The development of speech and language

Speech and language is developed within the first 3 years of life. This critical period is where children are able to absorb language and learn how to interact with others.  During this time it is also essential for children to be able to access an environment that is rich with language, sounds and sights. Children can enhance their own speech and language skills when they are able to listen to others talking. 


If however, this critical period is allowed to pass without exposure to language, it will be more difficult for the child to learn.


Things that can help your child’s development 


  • Singing songs with them

  • Talking to them whilst they’re in the bath or playing games

  • Reading stories to them

  • Regular socialising with others


What are the milestones for speech and language development?


The first signs of communication occurs when an infant learns that crying will bring food, comfort, and companionship.  Newborns also begin to recognise important sounds in their environment, such as the voice of their mother, father, siblings etc. 


As they grow, babies begin to sort out the speech sounds that compose the words of their language.  By 6 months of age, most babies recognise the basic sounds of their native language.  Children's development of speech and language skills may vary, however, most children follow a natural progression for mastering the skills of language.  See the website links in the Resources section below for helpful descriptions of these milestones. 


These milestones help doctors and other health professionals determine if a child is on track or if they may need extra help. Sometimes a delay may be caused by hearing loss, while other times it may be due to a speech or language disorder.

What is the difference between a speech disorder and a language disorder?


Children who have trouble understanding what others say (receptive language) or difficulty sharing their thoughts (expressive language) may have a language disorder.  Specific language impairment (SLI) is a language disorder that delays the mastery of language skills.  Some children with SLI may not begin to talk until their third or fourth year.


Children who have trouble producing speech sounds correctly or who hesitate or stutter when talking may have a speech disorder.  Apraxia of speech is a speech disorder that makes it difficult to put sounds and syllables together in the correct order to form words.


What should I do if my child’s speech or language appears to be delayed?


Talk to your child’s doctor if you have any concerns.  Your doctor may refer you to a speech-language therapist who is a health professional trained to evaluate and treat people with speech or language disorders.  The speech-language therapist will talk to you about your child’s communication and general development and may use special spoken tests to evaluate your child.

Recommended Resources

Click on the logo to access the website or resource


Penfields Building Blocks

A helpful description of the milestones in speech & language development.


Great Ormond Street Hospital

An explanation about speech and language development from birth to 12 months 

Speech Works.png

Speech Works

A website providing links to lots of useful resources.


Speech Link Parent Portal

A parent support site for children with speech and language difficulties.

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