What Are the Milestones in Speech and Language Development?

8 Apr, 2021

Parents always wait for this moment. Usually, listening to our children’s first words brings indescribable happiness. Yet, how can we be sure that their speech and language skills are developing as they should? In this article, you’ll read about language milestones, from zero to two years of age. You’ll also read about common communication disorders. Learn when you should look for health care or a speech-language pathologist.

Early Signs of Communication

Newborn babies learn early on how to communicate via crying. It’s pretty limited communication, but babies cry to bring food, comfort and company. Different cries can indicate various emotions or physical states, including pain, fear, hunger, and more.

Speech and language development typically occurs in the following stages:

  • Three months: babies recognise their parents by smiling and responding to their voices.
  • Six months: babies already identify a sound source, make different noises and recognise music.
  • One year: babies can begin to babble words like ‘mama’ or ‘dada’ and often try to imitate speech sounds. They may also start to use their first words.

Communication Developments Until 24 Months

Between 12 and 24 months, a child learns their first words and tries to engage in verbal communication. At the age of 18 months, a child is expected to have a vocabulary between six to 20 single words and recognise relatives’ names. By 24 months, this vocabulary jumps to 50 words or more. At this point, caretakers should understand most of what they are trying to say.


Language Disorder vs. Speech Disorder

It’s essential to know the difference between speech or language disorders. A language disorder can make it difficult for children to understand what others are saying (receptive language). Children can also have difficulty producing language to express themselves appropriately (expressive language). Difficulties in these areas may indicate an underlying delay or disorder.

Children with speech disorders or delays may present with speech sound errors, such as using the wrong sound in a word or leaving off sounds in words. They may also become more unclear when they speak in connected speech (e.g. in sentences). Disfluency can also occur in children, presenting in speech as hesitations or repetitions of the same word or phrase (stuttering).


Speech and language difficulties can be associated with a hearing problem, which impacts a child’s ability to hear themselves as well as others. This affects how they learn sounds and language. In the case of deafness and other communication issues related to hearing impairment, you should contact the National Institute on Deafness. Speech and language difficulties can also be associated with a number of other diagnoses, including (but not limited to): Autism Spectrum Disorder, Global Developmental Delay, chromosomal disorders and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

Looking for Help

If your children aren’t reaching the language milestones for their age, contact health professionals (such as your paediatrician) and child speech and language specialists. They may be able to identify underlying causes, such as hearing loss, which can delay young children from learning language and developing their speech.


Some specialists defend the hypothesis that there’s a “critical period” to learn languages. This period is generally cited to be the first years of life. According to this theory, learning a language after this period can be more challenging. Either way, specialists agree that it’s crucial to talk to your child. Typically developing children learn communication skills through communicating with those around them. By listening to other people talk and by practising their own communication, children develop their own speech and language skills.

How Gen Physio Can Help

Gen Physio provides mobile speech pathology services including at home speech therapy for children. To find out more or to book get in touch with us today on 1300 122 884.


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