When people find out I’m a Speech Therapist, questions that often come up are. “So, when should my child start to talk?” “When do children start to link words together to make sentences?” And “When should I be worried?”
Just like everything in child development, there is quite a large, natural variation in when children acquire these linguistic skills, but there are general rules of thumb that we can apply to give parents a guideline.
Anywhere from around 6 months, a baby will start to babble and practice their speech sounds such as “ba-ba” “mamama” and as a rough guide, we would like to have a couple of words by their first birthday. Now, these words may not be clear or said in a mature, adult way, but if your child says “bu” every time they see or want the spoon, we can count that as a word! At this stage, consistency in context is much more important than clarity.
When a child can use around 50 words, they then start to link them together eg. “Daddy gone.” “More milk.” We would like to see this around their second birthday.
Why are some children slow to talk?
The short answer to this is, we don’t really know. There are some obvious reasons such as hearing loss or ongoing inner ear infections that can cause delays in speech and language development, so it’s always a good idea to get hearing checked if you’re worried about language delay. Aside from this, there is some evidence to suggest that the environment in which the child is growing up could be a factor, but that doesn’t mean it’s your fault! Even children of Speech Therapists are late talkers. We often find that language delay runs in families, so there is often a genetic element involved.
Realistically, it may be that none of these factors apply to your child and they are still a late talker. It’s unlikely that the reasons will be clear at your first appointment and you may never get a definitive answer. Some children just take longer to speak than others! But don’t worry, whatever the reasons, there are always lots of things we can do to help.
Here are some red flags for you to watch out for:
- Babble – Does your child enjoy making sounds and noises? Do they use a range of sounds in their babble?
- Copying – Do they copy you making noises? (copying is a really important skill for talking – often animal or car noises come first!)
- Eye contact – Does your child look at you when you talk or play with them? Do they turn around when you call their name?
- Non-verbal communication – Does your child point or pull to show you what they want or what they’re interested in?
- Understanding – Children need to understand words before they use them themselves, so do you feel like your child understands what you say to them?
- Listening – Young children don’t often have long attention spans and we wouldn’t expect them to sit and listen for hours on end, but can your child stay engaged in a game or interaction for a few minutes?
If you answered yes to most of those questions, that is definitely a good sign that your child is on the right track. If not, it may be worth investigating further. Speak to your local NHS Speech & Language Therapy service or drop us a line for a free chat to discuss your concerns.