Expert Articles

Early Language Development Milestones

Author: Karen KEI
Speech and Language Therapist

By 6 months, babies usually
  • make sounds such as cooing, gurgling and babbling to themselves and others
  • make noises to get someone’s attention 
  • look at your face when you are interacting with them 
  • smile and laugh when they see you
  • show their excitement by kicking, waving their arms or make noises when they hear or see someone coming
Checking point
  • Are they looking at you when you are taking them?
    • Get close and make sure they can see your face. 
  • Are they cooing and gurgling to themselves?
    • Listen and pause so that they can join in and make ‘conversation’ with you 
  • Do they smile and laugh with you?
    • Play ‘peek-a-boo’ or tickling game
By 12 months, babies usually
  • making talking noises, babble string-like sounds, like ‘ba-ba-ba’, ‘ma-ma-ma’ and point at you for attention 
  • take turns having ‘conversation’, babbling back to people
  • respond to their name 
  • start understand simple words or instructions, such as cup, mummy, give me, bye-bye
  • begin to say or gesture their first words
Checking point
  • Do they try to get your attention by making sounds or gestures?
    • Wait for them to make a sound or a gesture, copy what they do and wait for them to do it again 
  • Do they respond to things you say to them?
    • Show them what it means by pairing actions with words. Try waving as you say ‘bye-bye’, hold your hands up as you say ‘up’. 
  • Do they look or point to an object?
    • Name and point to objects that they are interested in. Keep it simple and repeat as much as you can
By 18 months, babies usually
  • understand a variety of words and short phrases such as object names, action words, adjectives. 
  • point to body parts 
  • recognise and point to items when being asked ‘Where is the ball?’, ‘Give me the apple’ 
  • say around 20 words, usually words they hear everyday. 
  • Begin to join two words together, like ‘daddy eat’, ‘no more’.
Checking point
  • Are they saying words in any form?
    • Wait, observe and listen. Describe what they are doing. Talk to them about what you are doing. 
  • Can they follow instructions?
    • Sing nursery rhymes with actions or playful sounds. Add gestures such as an open palm for ‘give’, point to the object you want them to get. 
  • Do they like playing and exploring?
    • Show them different ways to play and add playful sounds to make it fun and interactive.
By 24 months, toddlers usually
  • understand longer sentences and instructions, like ‘Get the shoes’, ‘Give daddy the book’
  • understand simple Wh questions, like ‘Who’s that?’, ‘Where is the baby?’, ‘Do you want this?’
  • begin to ask questions 
  • put short phrases and sentences together, like ‘bye-bye baby’, ‘I want more’. 
  • become frustrated when being misunderstood or things did not go their way
Checking point
  • Do they understand simple questions?
    • Support their understanding with gestures. For Yes/No questions, support with head nodding or shaking. For simple Wh questions, point to the object/person.  
  • Do they combine two words together?
    • Repeat and expand on what they say. If the child says ‘ball’, you can say ‘big ball’, ‘yellow ball’. 
  • Do they mispronounce certain sounds?
    • Repeat the word back the correct way. There is no need to ask them to repeat.
By 30 months, toddlers usually
  • understand and use new words every day 
  • understand a variety of concepts, like big/small, up/down, in/on/under 
  • understand simple ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’ questions, but not ‘why’ 
  • Using sentences up to 3 words 
  • listen and understand simple stories with pictures
Checking point
  • Do they understand simple concepts?
    • Talk about different concepts during everyday routines. For example, during mealtime, you can say ‘The food is hot’, ‘The juice is cold’, ‘Daddy has a big spoon’. 
  • Are they making back-and-forth conversations with you?
    • Encourage them to keep the conversation going by nodding, smiling and giving responses like ‘oh really?’, ‘wow’. Avoid asking questions. 
  • When reading, can they point to familiar objects?
    • Show them what to do. For example, ask ‘Where is the bear?’, point and say ‘There it is!’. Repeat a few times and wait for them to respond.
By 36 months, children usually
  • understand and follow 2-step instructions, like ‘put on your jacket and get the shoes’
  • share and refer to something that happened in the past 
  • ask a lot of questions
  • use sentences that are longer and more complicated 
  • remember and enjoy telling familiar stories or singing songs
Checking point
  • Can they follow more complicated instructions?
    • Break down instructions in small steps. Model by doing it with them together. 
  • Do they ask questions?
    • Read books with repetitive lines. Take turns talking about the story and characters. 
  • Are they speaking in sentences?
    • Add words to children’s sentences to show how words link together. If they say ‘mummy dog’, you can say ‘yes, the dog is barking’.
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Early Language Development Milestones