Language begins the day we're born - and with encouragement, develops every day after!

From infancy, children cry, laugh, coo, and smile - reaching out to the world for a response. Children experiment with spoken sounds and, later on, with words. They learn that words represent familiar people and things and that communication is a two-way street.

As we know, recent brain research shows that one-on-one interaction and conversation actually assist in development. What we say to children - and how we say it - builds language skills.

Here's a look at how children acquire language skills - and how we can participate in this exciting development!

0 to 2

Children May

  • coo and gurgle for fun. By the third month, they may put their lips together to produce some consonant sounds.
  • learn to respond to some sounds and language around them.
  • repeat sounds they hear frequently especially those made by loved ones.
  • begin to combine consonant and vowel sounds at five to six months.
  • communicate first with gestures and expressions, later with simple sounds and words.
  • enter the "babbling" phase after six months, with strings of sounds taking on characteristics of conversation.
  • begin to use certain sounds as labels for special people and things.
  • learn to talk and respond to others for the pleasure of interaction and play.

What You Can Do

With children who are working on these skills:

  • talk with children constantly!
  • use a higher pitch and long, drawn-out vowels.
  • respond to babies' coos with your own high-pitched cooing.
  • give simple explanations of what is happening and what will happen next.
  • read simple books and sing fun songs for the pleasure of the sound of the words.
  • With children who are practicing these skills: all of the above, plus
  • respond to their feelings, ideas, and wishes with words as well as actions.
  • With children with mastery of these skills: all of the above, plus
  • use words children aren't familiar with and explain what they mean.
  • play language games, encouraging children to have fun rhyming and creating sounds.

2 to 3

Children May

  • recognize more spoken words and continue to learn the meaning of words used by people around them.
  • enjoy listening to stories, rhymes, and songs, and participating in fingerplays and language games.
  • follow simple directions.
  • use language to explain what they want, ask questions, and express their ideas and feelings.
  • put together short sentences, use pronouns, make plurals, and begin learning the names of colors and body parts.
  • continue to expand their vocabularies.

What You Can Do

With children who are working on these skills:

  • keep talking to children - all the time and about everything!
  • ask open-ended questions that encourage children to talk about what they're doing, feeling, and thinking.
  • suggest words when children seem unable to find the right ones to express themselves.
  • share rhymes and poems.
  • With children who are practicing these skills: all of the above, plus repeat what children say to offer confirmation, then help them expand their skills by adding new words.
  • explain in simple steps the tasks you want children to perform.
  • offer children words to help them express their feelings.
  • With children with mastery of these skills: all of the above, plus continue to offer children books, songs, and new experiences that expose them to a variety of new words in a meaningful context.
  • play more complex language games, and engage in in-depth conversations about the things children are interested in.

3 to 4

Children May

  • recognize and point out specific sounds in words they hear spoken.
  • ask lots of questions and enjoy talking about everything.
  • enjoy acting out complicated plots that involve lots of intense conversation.
  • know that writing is a form of communication and enjoy dictating comments about artwork and letters to loved ones.
  • continue to learn new words.
  • identify some words that rhyme and enjoy making up rhyming words.

What You Can Do

With children who are working on these skills:

  • engage children as often as possible in conversation about things they are doing and are interested in.
  • encourage children to play with other children and adults to develop their conversational abilities.
  • provide children with a rich variety of inviting reading material about topics of interest to them.
  • With children who are practicing these skills: all of the above, plus
  • continue to offer children materials and experiences that expose them to a variety of new words in meaningful contexts.
  • play increasingly complex language games, and engage in in-depth conversations about children's ideas and feelings.
  • With children with mastery of these skills: all of the above, plus
  • engage children in activities that involve exploring and discussing new things.
  • play games in which children match words that begin or end with the same sound.
  • involve children in games in which they listen to and offer verbal clues and directions.

4 to 5

Children May

  • continue to expand their vocabularies by listening to increasingly complex stories and engaging in advanced conversations with adults.
  • enjoy making up and telling stories.
  • understand that reading is useful for interacting with others and that we read the print, not just the pictures.
  • recognize and read aloud the words in the environment around them.
  • try to write whole words and enjoy dictating them.

What You Can Do

With children who are working on these skills:

  • continue to expose children to a variety of new words related to topics of interest to them.
  • engage in in-depth conversations with children.
  • play more complex language games.
  • write down children's spoken words and dictate their stories.
  • play rhyming games and games in which children match words that begin or end with the same letter sound.
  • With children who are practicing these skills: all of the above, plus offer children books on interesting topics that include unfamiliar words, and explain their meaning.
  • With children with mastery of these skills: all of the above, plus
  • encourage children to write their names and the words they know.
  • provide books and resource information, with specialized vocabulary words related to children's interests.

5 to 6

Children May

  • recognize and identify the sounds letters stand for.
  • be able to blend letters and letter patterns to sound out words.
  • enjoy writing and giving written messages to others, concentrating on the content of the messages and formation of letters.
  • enjoy looking at favorite books or books they have written.
  • begin to read simple books with predictable text.

What You Can Do

With children who are working on these skills:

  • offer books on interesting topics that include simple unfamiliar words, and explain their meaning.
  • encourage children to write their names and the words they know.
  • provide books and resource information with specialized vocabulary words. With children who are practicing these skills: all of the above, plus
  • support their love of language and books by reading together and sharing your favorite stories.
  • With children with mastery of these skills: all of the above, plus
  • involve children in reading signs, recipes, maps, and the other print they see and use every day.