Belinda Buckley speech & language therapist

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About speech, language & communication

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About speech, language and communication development

Speech - The use of speech sounds to express language - other ways are writing and signing.

Language - The words, and rules for combining and using them, common to a particular group of people.

Communication - The exchange of messages between two or more people.

What do children need in order to develop these skills?

A combination and interaction of elements, both within the child and in their environment, are important in helping children develop speech, language and communication. There is no hard and fast ‘recipe’ of these elements, but a minimum threshold in each general area is necessary for children to develop these skills without effort.

Elements within the child

Children need to want to communicate.

  • They need to be aware of and interested in other people to help them develop socially.
  • They need to understand what communication is for.
  • They need good hearing and vision.
  • Their brains and nervous systems need to grow and develop.
  • Their bodies need to grow and develop, for example their respiratory system, voice box, mouth, lips and tongue.
  • Their thinking skills need to develop.

Elements in the environment

Children need secure, affectionate relationships with caregivers who enjoy communicating with them.

  • They need opportunities to interact with others to learn about prevailing cultural and social expectations, about social interaction and to practise their communication skills in different situations.
  • They need to interact with adults so they can hear spoken language and develop their understanding and use of it.
  • They benefit from hearing language addressed to them which is in tune with their current level of understanding. For younger children this includes a smaller, simplified vocabulary, grammatically simple phrases and sentences, exaggerated pitch and exaggerated pronunciation of key words.
  • They need to experience events which provide opportunities for learning associated concepts and language. Frequently repeated routines such as having a bath and getting dressed help children to learn about different situations and related language. Non-routine events play an important role in helping children learn and use less familiar language as they get older.
  • Children need to learn about the world through experiencing it, especially through play. They need access to a wide range of play opportunities and things in the world (animals, books, toys, every-day objects) to support all areas of development including cognition, language and social understanding.

What skills are expected to emerge in children at different stages of development?

All babies and children differ in their rates of development, including in their acquisition of communication skills. The tables below are based on research and should be used as a general guide only. They have not been standardized on any group of children. Speech and language therapists use a range of detailed, standardized tests to investigate children’s language when necessary. The tables are reproduced from Children’s Communication Skills: from birth to five by Belinda Buckley (Routledge, 2003).

Click on the links below for a general guide on children's speech and language development at each stage.