‘I never knew that learning to speak was so complex!’ is a phrase I hear often when talking to parents and non-SLT (Speech and Language Therapy) professionals about how children learn to speak.
At around 12 months old, children will typically start to produce their first recognisable word – a recognisable word is anything which the child uses consistently for the same item or activity, it doesn’t necessarily need to be articulated perfectly. Examples would be “oo” for ‘moo’, “wuh wuh” for ‘bow wow (dog)’, “da” for ‘dad’ or “ma” for ‘Mum/Mama’.
Between 12 and 24 months of age, their repertoire of words increases so that by the time they are 2 years old, children will generally be communicating using a range of words and starting to put some words together to make phrases. The words that they are using should be getting more and more recognisable to those living outside of the family home, however children will typically use less sounds (usually /p, b, t, d, m, w/) in their words than adults and they will often miss off the ends of words. These limitations will result in them being understood by others around 50% of the time.
Between 2 and 3 years old, a child will be able to put 4-5 words together into a sentence, they will ask a lot (A LOT!) of questions, which is their way of finding out what things are and learning new words, and will have a wider range of speech sounds. They will tend to shorten some words or make some errors, for example ‘banana’ becomes “nana”, and ‘spaghetti’ may become “pasghetti” (or something completely different), and would often struggle with more difficult sounds such as ‘sh’, ‘ch’, ‘th’ and /r/ but they should generally be understood by others around 75% of the time by 3 years of age.
Speech will continue to develop and by the time a child is around 3 and a half years old they should be understood by any person that they speak to whether that is family or someone outside the family home.
Of course, there can be some variation in these timings however, if you are concerned, it is important to consider getting in contact with a Speech and Language Therapist to rule out any speech delay or disorder.
Find out more about Skybound Speech and Language Services here.