Monday, March 21, 2011

First Words: Child Language Development at 12-18 Months

Happy First Birthday to your little one! You've both survived the first year (whew!) and now that you look back, you can't imagine how time went so quickly.  There's much to look forward to over the next year, not the least of which is the amazing journey that your child will take as she grows from a babbling baby into a talking toddler.

At the end of the previous stage of language development (6-12 months), your baby was just starting to use her first real words.  If you arrive at 12 months only to find that your baby isn't yet talking, though, fear not. Many children will take up to 15 months of age to utter their first real word. It's well worth the wait!

Even if your child isn't yet talking, you'll notice that she continues to become more and more social.  Between the ages of 12 and 18 months, you'll see her really start to point at things that interest her, show you things to get your attention, and give you objects to interact with you. These skills are really important to watch for, as they show us that she wants you to join in her little world. You'll also notice that she's started to really enjoy being the center of attention and that she'll do things just to get you to laugh. Babies at this age revel in the attention they get from dancing to music, clapping, or making silly sounds. Watch out though-- laugh at the wrong thing and she'll repeat it endlessly to get you to laugh again!

When your little one does start talking, you can expect words to come slowly at first.  Typically, children have around 4-6 words at 15 months and then between 20 and 50 words at 18 months.  When your child hits the magic 50 word mark, he will enter a language explosion during which he will astound you with his ability to quickly learn words that you didn't even know he'd heard! Until then, though, he will pick up a word here and there, with no real speed or urgency. This is totally normal, so just enjoy the words he does have and trust that more are on the way.

During this" first-word" phase of language development, your baby's words will probably be limited to certain sounds. At this stage of learning language, most children are using p, b, m, n, w, h, t, d, and vowel sounds. Your toddler will probably say the first consonant in the word but not the last, and his two syllable words will likely be repetitions of the same syllable (mama, dada, baba). At this stage of language development, children will also often use one word to mean lots of things; in speech therapy world, we call this overextension. Baby Girl, for example, used the word "wawa" to refer to any liquid, even if wasn't actually water. As a result of your child's immature speech and his use of overextensions, you'll probably find yourself translating his language to those who don't know him well.

At the same time as your baby is learning new words, he's also learning lots more about the world around him.  He is actively exploring his environment (lock your cabinets or prepare to have them emptied on a daily basis!) and he's watching you all the time now.  His imitation skills have improved by leaps and bounds and you'll probably notice that he takes great pleasure in imitating the things you do around the house on a daily basis.  Last Christmas, for example, Baby Girl ignored all her new toys in lieu of playing with our Swiffer. These rapidly developing imitation skills will serve your child well as his increased motivation to imitate you helps him to learn all kinds of new skills (swiffering included!).

At 12-18 months, your baby will begin to understand a lot more, too. He'll be able to find a variety of named people, toys, animals, clothes and body parts. By 18 months of age, he'll understand at least 50 words, if not many more. All of a sudden, you'll have to careful what you say around him--utter the word for his favorite snack without being prepared to give it to him and you risk a tantrum! This is when spelling starts to come in very handy as you work to convey messages to your spouse without your toddler understanding. You'll also notice your toddler really demonstrating his understanding of what you say by following an increasing number of directions--especially familiar directions that you give him inside of your daily routines.  By 18 months, he'll even be able to go to another room to find something that you ask him to get and bring it back to you.

Finally, his play will continue to evolve.  Play is related to language development, so it's important keep an eye on play skills as well.  At this age, you'll notice your baby start to use some fleeting pretend play actions. He might pretend to drink out of a cup, or put a spoon to a baby's mouth, or hug his stuffed animals. He'll also start to play more by himself, letting you get a a bit more done around the house in the meantime (yahoo!). And finally, he'll really start to enjoy looking at books, providing you with yet another great opportunity to enhance his language development.

Enjoy your little one as you watch him discover his ability to communicate with you during his second year of life. In the blink of an eye, you'll be at his second birthday, gazing back at his first and wondering how your little baby could have possibly turned into a toddler already.

Looking for more information about your child's speech and language development?
What To Expect at 0-6 Months
Dance Puppet Dance: Communication at 6-12 months
Your Talking Toddler: What To Expect at 18-24 months 
Speech Sounds 
Red Flags for Autism

Looking for ways to help your your toddler learn more language?
Sing, Dance, and Be Merry
Books, Toddlers, and Language
Three Magic Words 
Baby Signs 
Moo Baa La 

1 comment:

  1. Seriously, I love all of your advice! And its so timely for me since T is 12 months.. 10 adjusted..