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Language development in children aged from 0 to 3 years


Language development in children aged from 0 to 3 years


Communication and language development in children aged from 0 to 3 years

Editors: Amélie Lombard and Justine Poigné, speech and language therapists.

It is important to remember that each child develops at his or her own pace, so the developmental milestones detailed below correspond to average ages of acquisition. There may be slight interindividual variations, which are not necessarily indicative of a delay in communication development, but which should be monitored. . From a linguistic point of view, according to linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, language is an abstract system of signs, each corresponding to a concrete idea (F. de Saussure, Cours de linguistique générale, Paris, Grande Bibliothèque Payot, 2000). This system evolves within a community, for example, a child develops their mother tongue by listening to the people around them. Language is governed by a lexical, phonetic, phonological and morphosyntactic code . According to Saussure, speech is self-realisation of language. The purpose of language is to communicate a message from the sender to a recipient using an oral, graphic, or gestural code.

Prenatal language development

Language begins to develop in utero. According to several studies, the brain areas dedicated to the recognition and processing of speech sounds begin to develop during the third trimester of pregnancy. From the 30th week onwards, the fetus's auditory canal develops and it is soon able to perceive the sounds of its mother tongue and differentiate its mother's voice from other surrounding sounds (Bartha-Doering L., et al., 2019).

First vocalisations and language prerequisites

Conventional development of communication and language from 0 to 12 months

Children are already in possession of communication skills from birth. They express themselves by cryingand screaming. (Biological reflexes: hunger, anger, pain, and responses to frustration), which are only distinguishable from the3rd weekof extrauterine life onwards. At this stage,vocalisations begin to emerge (babbling, mouth noises), which are distinct from these cries and screams. The newborn reacts to noises, recognises its parents' voices, and learns to stare, particularly at faces, allowing it to recognise them. From the 6th week, onwards, smiles appear, along with a few small facial expressions. Gesticulations and changes in body tone and posture are also a means of communication. Between3 and 6months, babies react to their first names. They become capable of interacting through imitation (mimics, sounds), they develop the ability to take turns in vocalisations. The baby produces increasingly varied sounds, starting with vowels ("aaaaa") and then repetitive syllables (e.g., "bababa"). Babbling, a crucial stage in language development begins . Between 7 and 10 months of age, the child can recognise everyday noises and make eye contact with the sound source. The child also begins to imitate meaningful gestures such as "goodbye" or "hooray". They also understand "yes" and "no". During this period, babbling intensifies, the syllables produced are increasingly varied, and the child is able to "converse" with the adult, i.e., use intonation and pauses to punctuate their jargon and imitate a discussion.

Communication and language warning signs from 0 to 12 months

In the first three months of life, particular attention should be paid if the child doesn't seem to respond to noises, doesn't look at the person speaking to them or has feeding difficulties (difficulties with sucking). Thereafter, between 3 and 6 months, the absence of social smiles and babbling should be monitored more closely. Finally, during the 7-10 month period, if your child is passive and doesn't seem to respond to your stimulations, or if the transition to solid foods is difficult (refusal of pieces, gag reflex when taking solid foods, frequent vomiting, too little weight gain), you should seek advice from your paediatrician, who will refer you to a speech therapist if necessary.

How do you stimulate your baby during the 0-12 month period?

During this essential period in a child's development, it is important to provide the child with plenty of varied language stimulation. Newborns are sensitive to physical contact (carrying them, rocking them, making eye contact). They appreciate sound toys, mouth sounds, and nursery rhymes or songs. They're also drawn to variations in speech intonation, so it's a good idea to slow down the rate of speech and accentuate certain syllables or words when speaking to them. Additional support in the form of a "language bath" is also essential. More specifically, it involves verbalising both your and the child's emotions, alongside a running commentary on the immediate environment (naming objects, what the child eats, clothes, body parts, etc.) and everyday actions.

A child's first words

Conventional language development from 12 to 18 months

12 months onwards(on average) marks the emergence of the first words, mostly associated with gestures. These first words often include "dada", "mama", "bye-byes" or "more". At this stage some words are only intelligible to the parents and others who are close to the child. The child understands more words than they produce and can now understand around 30 words corresponding to everyday objects. H3> Language warning signs from 12 to 18 months In addition to those already stated, other warning signs may include a lack of pointing, psychomotor retardation (the child is unable to sit up or hold their head), regression (the child seems to lose what they have learnt) and a lack of progress.

How to stimulate the child during the stages of 12 to 18 months?

strong>The language bath, previously mentioned, should be continued, and diversified. It's a good idea to stick to simple phrases, tell stories, look at age-appropriate picture books or sing nursery rhymes. Symbolic play (or "pretend play") can also be used to stimulate the child's development, for example, by pretending to eat, to make a phone call, to care for a baby, to nurse etc. In play situations, but also in all daily activities, it's important to talk to the child in order to provide them with a solid foundation in language and communication skills.

The child's first sentences

Conventional language development for children aged 18 months to 3 years

While the child has about 50 words in their lexical stock (mostly corresponding to everyday objects), we’ll see alexical explosionat around18 months old. This means that during this period, the child learns an average of 10 new words a day , which significantly increases its knowledge of everyday vocabulary. The child will also begin to associate two words(e.g. "Mommy's gone", "Broken truck", "Don't want"). They will also repeat phrases they hear more frequently. By the age of 2, (on average), there are around 50 words in the lexical stock that the child can use in two- or three-word sentences; they know their first name and can refer to themselves. They also know the names of everyday objects (clothes, toys, food). It's at this age that symbolic play takes shape. Also, by the age of 2 children begin to object and use the word "no". Around the age of 2 ½, the child might throw tantrums, testing limits and building character. Language becomes increasingly precise: the child imitates the verbal productions they hear, expands their use of verbs and adjectives, asks questions, and understands more complex instructions, as well as colours and some spatial notions. Finally, by age 3, the lexical stock has grown to between 400 and 900 words, and sentences are becoming longer and more intelligible. Children are able to use "I" to talk about themselves.

Language warning signs in children aged 18 months to 3 years

At around 18 months, we're concerned if the child won't return eye contact (doesn't look at the interlocutor), if they don't say a single word, don't use social gestures (hello, hooray, etc.), if pointing hasn't yet appeared and if feeding difficulties persist. Later, around age 2, if the child's lexical stock contains only a few words, if they don't use their first name or "me" to talk about themselves, if they don't imitate scenes from everyday life, or if they suffer from frequent ear infections, they should be referred to their paediatrician. From the age of 2 ½, a lack of word association and lexical stock of fewer than 50 words can also be considered warning signs. Finally, at age3, language development should be monitored if the child doesn't seem to be acquiring new vocabulary, doesn't produce sentences or answer questions, never takes the initiative in verbal communication, has poor intelligibility, or repeats inappropriately (out of context), is often stuck for words, or repeats the beginning of words several times. It's important to remember that not all phonemes (language sounds) are acquired simultaneously. As a result, the child's language productions may be temporarily distorted, often simplified (for example, the word "dog" may be pronounced "og", or "tractor" may be pronounced "acor"). These phonological changes tend to decrease until around the age of5 when they disappear completely: any persistence of an articulatory defect should be discussed with a doctor, who will recommend referral to an appropriate healthcare professional.

How to stimulate a child from the ages of 18 months to 3 years

As previously stated, it's important to provide your child with a rich, varied and age-appropriate language bath. You can rephrase the incomplete utterances they produce so that the child can build on this foundation, first constructing small, simple, correct sentences (from 18 months to 30 months) and then accurate, more complex utterances from (24-36 months and beyond). Play is also a valuable method of stimulating language. Role play can be offered from 18 months, puzzles from 2 years and bingo/memory games from 2 ½ years, all of which provide verbal support and language models that children can use to expand their language. As gross and fine motor skills develop, children can be offered manual activities (such as drawing, modelling clay, finger painting, etc.), which are all pretexts for language!


Bibliographical sources:
Barbier, I. (2011) Parle-moi! Orthoédition Kail, M. and Fayol, M. (2007) L'acquisition du langage : Le langage en émergence de la naissance à trois ans, PUF