Language Development: a teachers guide

Paul Main

What is language development, and how do we promote its maturation effectively?

What is language development?

Language development in children is the process through which we gain the ability to comprehend and communicate through speech. Before acquiring fluency, a child may progressively comprehend fundamental verbal patterns and increase their vocabulary throughout this stage. Additionally, language development can be defined as, the process of developing the capacity to speak, which starts with the children hearing and understanding the pitch of the mother's voice and culminates with the child being able to use words effectively to transmit thoughts and desires.

Secondly, language development in children is the process of early childhood language comprehension and expression. It starts before the child's birth and continues for many years thereafter. As a child develops, their brain learns to detect noises, speech, and they typically react by waving, babbling, and pointing. Over time, this also develops into the capacity to generate and differentiate spoken language. Hence, the systematic procedure aids a learning of children and communication throughout time. It promotes cognitive development, and creates the wide range of foundations for reading and writing.

Language development is a crucial element of childhood and early years education. It supports the capacity of children to learn aspects of spoken communication. It also enhances your child’s ability to:

  • Convey and comprehend sentiments
  • Think and learn
  • Address problems
  • Create and sustain relationships



Language development and child-directed speech

From birth until age five, infants quickly develop telegraphic speech. The developmental stages of language skills are universal. The age and rate at which a child passes each spoken language milestone varies considerably. Thus, a child's spoken language skills development must be compared to norms, not other children. Girls can acquire language more rapidly than boys.

Language development is a fundamental indication of brain growth and maturity. After age five, speech skills acquisition becomes more difficult for the majority of children and it indicates the language disorders among infants. Typically, receptive language development (the capacity to perceive speech) advances more rapidly than expressive vocabulary development (the ability to communicate).

There are two known principles of spoken language development. In referential language development, children begin learning language skills by speaking single words before combining them into two-word mini - sentences and, subsequently, three-word phrases. In the early stages of expressive vocabulary development, children produce extended, incomprehensible babbles that imitate the cadence and rhythm of adult speech. The majority of children employ a mixture of these techniques and easily achieve phrasing outcomes.

What are the broad milestones of language development?

Language development milestones are a significant tool for monitoring children’s language development. While there is a vast range of ‘normal’ months of age, every child learns at their own speed, missing a milestone may be an early warning that your child is failing to hear, comprehend or utilize language skills. Infants, throughout language development, may face problems therefore, milestones are indicators of when a child is struggling in a certain area of speech development.

Milestones of language and child development for infants aged 0 to 2 years:

  • Children up to 3 months
  • Responds to speech sound and other stimuli by actively listening 
  • Expresses emotions by cooing, gurgling, smiling, and weeping.
  • There will be a predominance of vowels, but they will begin to vocalize with two syllables.
  • Cognitively, the child will begin exploratory play by mouthing and touching items; will start observing the eyes and mouth of the speaker.
  • 4 to 6 months
  • Considers your voice, several additional noises and speeches
  • Responds to one's own name.
  • Laughs or squeals; mutters a string of phrases.
  • Modifies volume, rate, and pitch by manipulating sound.
  • Cognitively, the child starts to play; visually follows a disappearing item; examines things; and reaches out to pick up a fallen object.
  • 7 to 12 month
  • Recognizes family members, attends to music or singing, and views identified photographs with an adult.
  • Complies with certain orders, particularly when accompanied by visual signals (e.g., bye-bye), and starts two-syllable jargon-like simple sentences.
  • By 12 months, the child may be able to say 3-4 words.
  • Understand simple commands
  • Cognitively, the child will employ trial and error to achieve a goal; enhance mimicry; understand non-verbal communication correctly use familiar things.
  • 13 to 18 months
  • By 18 months of age, around 15 significant words are produced or used.
  • Long-term consistency in simple sentences 
  • Requests "more" and points to images in a book.
  • Cognitively, the infant delivers a toy when requested, lifts the lid of a box to uncover a concealed toy, investigates the surroundings, seeks attention and imitates many new motions.
  • 19 to 24 months
  • Likes rhyming games; pulls a person to show them something; utilizes "I" and "my"; and identifies the most frequent items.
  • Utilizes brief incomplete phrases and simple sentences (such as "want juice" and "vehicle go").
  • By 24 months, a childmay be able to comprehend 200-300 words (although not necessarily utilize them). Able to speak complicated sentences 
  • Infant cognitive development continues to mature, the class infant recognizes forms; sits alone with books for brief times; matches familiar items; comprehends complex sentences; and points to a body part.


Language development stages
Language development stages

Who are the main language developmental theorists?

The theories of child development and speech acquisition describe how humans acquire grammatical structures, words, and expressions of child-directed speech. When we speak about vocabulary development, we are referring to the process through which children and young children grow to comprehend and convey spoken language during childhood and infancy. Many meanings exist for the word or phrase language. One of them refers to a communication system that transmits information from one person to another using words and complex sentences.  

The manner in which a person learns terminology has long been the subject of discussion and speculation. Some thinkers argue that spoken language is acquired via a child's upbringing (nurture). Others believe that Children are born with the natural aptitude to acquire a language skills, independent of their family or environment (nature). Here are given the major developmental theorists of the world.

Major Language Developmental Theorists:

When considering theorists and theories of speech development, B.F. Skinner, Noam Chomsky, Jean Piaget, and Lev Vygotsky are among the theorists who have made significant contributions to spoken language development.

  1. B.F. Skinner: Operant Conditioning

B.F. Skinner (1904–1990) was a prominent American psychologist, Harvard professor, and proponent of the behaviourist theory of learning, according to which learning is a 'conditioning' process in an environment of stimulation, reward, and punishment. Skinner differentiates between informal learning, which happens spontaneously, and formal education, which relies on the instructor producing ideal patterns of stimulus and response (reward and punishment), or "operant conditioning."

The ideas of B.F. Skinner centres on behaviour and operant conditioning. He thought that behaviour is acquired by reinforcement. For instance, if a dog performs a trick and his owner rewards him with a treat, he will likely repeat that behaviour in the future since it was positively reinforced.

Skinner also developed a method called token economies, which involves giving rewards to a subject in exchange for certain behaviours. For example, if a dog barks at strangers, you might offer him a treat instead of scolding him.

  1. Noam Chomsky: The Nativist Theory

Noam Chomsky is one of the most important nativist theorists who has helped change linguistics in the 1950s and 1960s by seeing language profiles as a uniquely human, biologically-based cognitive skill. During the 1960s, Chomsky questioned the notion that the human mind is a "blank slate" and opposed the behaviourist hypothesis since toddlers acquire "impoverished linguistic input" (baby babble) as they grow up.

Chomsky's work explores the biological foundation for speech acquisition and says children have intrinsic linguistic ability. Chomsky calls this a "language learning device." He thinks children learn spoken language skills naturally. In the absence of formal language, he thinks children would build their own system of communication. All children make the same verbal blunders, regardless of the vocabulary skills they learn. Chomsky believes in a "universal grammar" that all human communication share grammatical laws. His study does not reveal brain regions or genetic bases for humans' natural linguistic aptitude. 

  1. Jean Piaget: Assimilation and Accommodation

Jean Piaget (1896-1980) was a Swiss psychologist and key figure in child development. He is notable for his theory of cognitive development, which examines how children's minds grow. Swiss researcher Jean Piaget linked language skills acquisition to cognitive development. He said a child must grasp a topic before learning its verbal form.

According to Jean Piaget's theory of spoken language development, children acquire language via both assimilation and adaptation. Assimilation is the act of altering one's surroundings in order to incorporate new knowledge into a previously established schema (or idea). The act of modifying one's schema in order to adapt to a new situation is known as accommodation.

Piaget felt that infants must first grow intellectually before they can acquire a full grasp of the spoken word. According to him, Children first form mental structures (schemas) inside the mind, and from these mental structures, language development occurs. 

  1. Vygotsky: Zone of Proximal Development

Lev Vygotsky was born in Orsha, a city in the western Russian Empire, on November 17, 1896. In 1917, he got a law degree from Moscow State University, where he studied sociology, linguistics, psychology, and philosophy, among other subjects.

The theory of language development proposed by Lev Vygotsky centered on social learning and the zone of proximal growth (ZPD). The ZPD is a degree of development attained when infants participate in social interactions with others; it represents the gap between a child's learning potential and actual learning.

Piaget's underestimation of the significance of social connections in language development was also proved by Vygotsky's hypothesis. Piaget's and Vygotsky's ideas are often contrasted, and both have been effectively used in the area of education.


Promoting playful language development
Promoting playful language development

What is the link between language development and literacy?

Language development and literacy are unquestionably essential to the entire growth of children. It enhances capacity to communicate, express, and comprehend the emotions of children. Additionally, it enhances your child's capacity to think, improves effective communication skills and helps them build and sustain connections.

A child's spoken language development is intimately tied to his or her literacy. Numerous studies have been conducted on this issue, and they have all shown that early literacy is directly related to language development in early years-aged infants.

The relationship between the two is quite natural, long before a child learns to read words and identify symbols, facial expressions he or she develops and perfects the abilities necessary to comprehend how language functions. In addition, before the age of eight, infants understand that speech has patterns and symbols have meaning, laying the groundwork for oral child-directed speech and literacy development. Therefore, good phraseology development is essential for subsequent reading accomplishment. 

However, many children have expressive speech disorders or language difficulties due to a variety of causes, resulting in ineffective vocabulary and they become late talkers that cause them to lag far behind their classmates. Consequently, sufficient exposure to organized and age-appropriate teaching throughout the early years of spoken language and literacy development assists in closing the gap in language impairment.

Promoting language development and oracy in the classroom

Reading and writing flow on a foundation of talk. Providing a bedrock of opportunities to practice speaking can be seen as a gateway to advancing literacy outcomes. If we really want to promote better grammatical structures in our students' writing, then we need to put more attention on promoting speaking opportunities for our pupils. Oracy can be seen as the ability of children to express themselves clearly through the spoken word. Many schools are now starting to promote this fundamental principle systematically across their institutions. Facilitating consistency in speech does take time, but many schools see positive outcomes in areas such as the use of complex grammar when they place oracy higher up the curriculum agenda.