Everything You Need to Know About Language Development and Speech Delays in Children

While it's true that every child develops on their own timeline, delays in specific milestones such as talking leave many parents wondering, "Is my child on schedule?" Here are some answers to your developmental questions.

baby talking
Photo: Alexandra Grablewski
01 of 08

Paying Attention to Others


Social interaction is the foundation of language development, says Katrina Zeit, a speech pathologist at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. "If your child doesn't pay attention to other people, respond to sounds, music, games, or moving toys, it could be a warning sign of a possible speech delay."

02 of 08

Babbling Baby

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Between 4 and 6 months old, your baby will show an increase in babbling and some vocalization, says Suzanne Bonifert, head of Speech-Language Pathology Services at UT Dallas Callier Center for Communication Disorders. "The baby will start making some vowel sounds, and once they get closer to 6 months, they'll start putting together some consonant and vowel sounds."

03 of 08

Recognize Their Name

baby talk

"Between 6 and 9 months, your baby should stop and turn toward you when you call their name," says Zeit. Your child should also respond to different sounds that you make, and they might even start trying to imitate them. "That's why it's so important for parents to talk to their child as much as possible," Zeit says. Research shows that children with talkative parents develop their language skills faster.

04 of 08

The First Words

A 1 year old boy with his mum at home

Many babies say their first word—"mama," "dada," or "baba"—at or around 12 months. But don't fret if your baby isn't speaking yet. It takes some children longer to master speech than others.

You can help increase their vocabulary by reading books and simply talking to your baby about what you are doing in everyday tasks. "You don't want your communication to be too simple or too complex," says Bonifert. When out for a walk, simply point out the pretty flowers or the big dog you see on your journey.

05 of 08

Act Out Gestures

Baby Waving
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Most little ones incorporating gestures at or around 12 months. They may start waving hello and good-bye, as well as shaking their head "no." Taking turns during playtime teaches baby communication skills, says Zeit. This can be achieved by rolling a ball back and forth, sharing food, or even turning the pages of a book together.

06 of 08

Follow Simple Requests

Baby peeking through seats on a place

Your baby should be able to respond to their name, understand "no" and "bye-bye," and fulfill a simple request—i.e. "Can you hold your doll?—by 18 months. Around this time, your little one will also be able to point to various body parts when asked ("Show us your belly button!"). Games such as peekaboo and "I spy" can help your child develop these skills.

07 of 08

Talking Times 2

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Many children have a vocabulary explosion at or around 18 months, says Zeit. "Most toddlers say 50 words by the time they're 2. During this time, they'll will start putting two words together, such as 'Mommy go' and 'big doggie.'" And you can help your child along by being descriptive when talking to her. Instead of saying "Where's the ball?" ask "Where's your big red ball?"

08 of 08

Express Their Feelings

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By 24 months, your child should be able to communicate their immediate needs to you using words (although not all of them will be entirely coherent). At this age, you'll understand your child's speech about 50 percent of the time.

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