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Parents: What is Speech and Language?

From cries, to babbling, to words and sentences, do you ever wonder how your child is learning to communicate with you?

Children go through an intense period of acquiring speech and language skills during their first three years of life when their brain is best able to absorb language. Did you know that an infant’s cry is the first sign of communication? A baby is able to tell you through crying that he is hungry, tired, or uncomfortable and learns that by crying, he will receive food and comfort. How amazing is that!? Even more amazing, by 6 months of age, babies are able to recognize the basic sounds of their native language! Although crying is a child's primary means of communication at birth, language immediately begins to develop through repetition and imitation.

So what exactly is speech and language? Simply put, speech is how we say sounds and words. Speech includes articulation (how we make speech sounds using our mouth, lips, and tongue), voice (how we use our vocal folds and breath to make sounds) and fluency (the rhythm of our speech).

Language on the other hand, refers to the words we use and how we use them to share ideas and get what we want. Receptive language, which is the ability to receive and understand a message from another person, usually develops faster than expressive language, which is the ability to convey a message, through speech, sign, writing or alternative forms of communication.

Children first speak using long unintelligible babbles that mimic the cadence and rhythm of adult speech, then they combine sounds into single words, followed by joining words together in two-word and then three-word sentences. Babies and children learn by watching and listening to the people around them, so it’s very helpful if you talk to them…a lot!!!

Babies begin babbling and making sounds around 4-6 months of age and imitate sounds around 7-9 months of age. By about 12 months of age, children start to use meaningful language such as “mama, dada.” It is important to remember that not every child is the same and children reach milestones at different ages. However, whenever you are suspicious that your child is not developing skills or not developing them correctly, contact your pediatrician or a local healthcare professional.

Next week’s blog: Speech and Language Milestones!

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