The 6 Stages of Language Development and Their Importance

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published September 5, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Knowing the stages of language development is vital as a parent, educator, or someone who works with young children. Although the stages of language development are universal, the rate at which each child progresses can vary. Understanding the stages of language development can help you identify and correct any issues during each stage to ensure children receive the support they need to learn, communicate, and socialize.

In this article, we explain the stages of language development, discuss why they're important, and offer tips for improving a child's language development.

What are the stages of language development?

The stages of language development are the steps children typically follow to acquire the ability to process speech and communicate. During this process, a child may slowly understand basic linguistic patterns and expand their vocabulary gradually before achieving fluency. Certain factors can influence a child's language learning capabilities, including motivation, environment, gender, and physical development. Here are the main stages of language development in children:

Pre-linguistic stage

The first stage of language acquisition occurs from a child's birth until they're six or seven months old. Children don't have language skills yet, so they communicate with sounds instead. They may cry, coo, snort, laugh, or murmur during these months to express distress, alleviation, or happiness. Children can also recognize sounds, voices, and facial expressions during this stage.

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Babbling stage

Children use their speech organs during the babbling stage, usually between six and nine months. They make oral articulations, commonly known as babbling, by opening and shutting their lips and jaws and moving their tongues. These articulations are typically noises or syllables that aren't words yet, such as "baba."

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Holophrastic stage

The holophrastic stage generally occurs between the ages of nine and 18 months. Children have developed enough language skills to say single words during this stage. The words are usually simple and refer to everyday objects or help children identify their basic needs. For example, common words children say during this stage are "mama" or "dada" to get their parent's attention.

Related: Understanding Figurative Language (With Examples)

Two-word stage

The two-word stage typically occurs between ages 18 to 24 months old. Children start using two words instead of one, combining words they learned during the holophrastic stage. For example, instead of just saying mama, a child may say, "Thank mama," to show appreciation. Children may follow simple grammatical rules during this stage, such as adding inflection at the end of a question.

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Telegraphic stage

The telegraphic stage occurs between the ages of 24 and 30 months. Children can speak phrases that are longer and have more than two elements. For instance, a child might say, “The cat stand up on the table.” Correct grammar still isn't prevalent in this stage, but the sentence conveys that the cat is standing up in addition to being on the table. The child also develops the ability to understand basic instructions, including two-part orders like, "Go to your table and get your books."

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Multi-word stage

Beyond 30 months, children enter the multi-word stage. They build increasingly complex sentences that allow them to communicate their ideas better. They also start to incorporate morphemes to make more semantically sound phrases. For instance, they know to use the word “dogs” instead of “dog” when referring to more than one dog.

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Why is language development important?

As a parent, teacher, child care provider, or speech-language pathologist, understanding the stages of language development helps you promote a child's progress. You can create goals for them and intervene if they haven't achieved the proper milestones for their age. Here are some other reasons language development is essential:

Improves self-esteem

Well-developed language skills can help improve self-esteem. When children find they can use their language skills effectively, they may have more motivation to interact with others. It can also help them develop confidence in their schoolwork. If a child can communicate with their peers, they're likely to have higher self-esteem because they can make friends easily and may be more successful at getting jobs in the future. For example, if you're a child psychologist, your work might involve helping children with language development issues to improve their self-confidence.

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Enhances literacy

Proper language development is necessary for a child's literacy skills to comprehend books and school assignments. It's also vital for children to understand the teacher's instructions and class subject material. For example, a student can only understand how to perform basic mathematical problems if they can identify and follow the directions. Knowing how to help students with language development issues can improve their learning abilities and boost their academic performance.

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Aids self-expression

Language development allows children to express themselves and communicate with siblings, parents, and babysitters. Outside the home, kids benefit from language skills to express themselves while playing with friends, participating in class, and interacting with teachers at school. This means having strong communication skills for their age can help children build stronger relationships with their peers. When kids can express themselves through language, social interactions and everyday life can become easier.

Improves cognitive development

Learning a new language aids in brain development and increases intelligence and creativity in children. Children who have more developed language skills typically have less risk of cognitive impairment and may find it easier to understand basic concepts, which can help them in school when learning how to read and write. This means encouraging healthy language development is essential to promote a child's learning ability.

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Promotes social interaction

Language development plays a crucial role in how well a child can interact with friends, family, and other members of society. Well-developed language can improve a child's ability to engage in social interactions, meaning that their social and interpersonal skills can also develop as they learn how to use language effectively. It's essential to pay attention to how well children develop language to ensure they can function effectively in a social setting.

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Tips for improving language development

If you want to help improve a child's language development, here are some tips to consider:

Give children control

When talking to children, let them control the conversation. They may choose a topic they enjoy talking about, encouraging them to talk for a longer period. This can improve their ability to express ideas and form sentences.

Limit screen time

Excess screen time may interfere with language learning, so limiting it can be beneficial. This is because technology, like smartphones and televisions, often lacks interaction, which is essential for language development. Try to find educational programs you can play for your children or limit their recreational screen time to an hour or two a day.

Offer adequate support and feedback

Offering regular support and feedback when children talk to you can help improve their confidence and encourage them to learn faster. If you notice mistakes in their speech, try correcting them encouragingly to help them learn. You can do this by repeating their speech using the proper pronunciation or grammar and encouraging them to repeat it.

Talk to the child regularly

Giving children the opportunity to speak can help improve their language skills. If they can't respond yet, you can still talk to children regularly so they can hear certain words or statements and repeat them at a later stage. Try to expose them to different types of speech and speakers to diversify their language learning abilities.

Read books aloud

Consider scheduling book reading sessions with children to expose them to new words and sentence structures. Choose a book appropriate for their age and language ability so they can follow the story. When they're old enough, you can use these sessions to encourage them to read certain words themselves.

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