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General Communication Development

Infants use intentional communication through gesture and/or vocalizations. They accompany these modes with eye contact. (James, 1990)

Birth – 1 month

  • Sounds consist of reflexive crying and vegetative sounds (clicks and burps)
  • Vowel-like sounds
  • Able to discriminate between mother's and another's voice along with between foreign language and native language of mother

1 – 6 months

  • Cooing, gooing, laughing, squealing and growling.  Cooing equals vocalic sounds sometimes including back consonants /k/ and/g/ and some consonant-vowel productions (ex. ka and guh)

4 months

  • Able to match facial shapes with vocalizations (rounded lips for "o" sound)
  • Prefer infant directed speech (exaggerated intonational patterns, rhythmic, slower speech, and higher pitch)

4– 6 months

  • Babbling appears (CV and VC productions, ex. ba ba ba or ug ug ug)

6– 8 months

  • Reduplicated babbling (baba) – repeat same syllable
  • Vocal play and increase variety of sounds
  • Can distinguish between words produced in native language vs. foreign language

8– 10 months

  • Variegated babbling (strings of alternating sounds – ex. ba-de-ga-poo)
  • Adult intonational patterns emerge
  • Echolalia appears - repeat what others say

9– 12 months

  • Jargon, likely unintelligible, appears (strings of syllables that mirror adult speech)
  • Consistent use of sounds relating to a specific context (ex. uh – always means up while ah always means more)
  • Gaze alteration – child can look back and forth between two objects (ex. mother and cookie)
  • Repair of a failed message – if initial signal fails to result in adult action, child repeats and may expand the message
  • Ritualize previous instrumental gestures – reaching out for object may now only become a grasping motion and vocalization for the desired object

12 months

  • Emergence of first words consisting of labels for entities, actions, properties and personal-social words (bye-bye)
  • Expressive vocabulary of 1 or more words (receptive vocabulary generally exceeds expressive vocabulary)

15 months

  • Expressive vocabulary of 4 – 6 words
  • Produce first words with recognizable meaning to regulate the behavior of others, to gain joint attention and for social interaction

18 months

  • Expressive vocabulary of 20 words
  • May initiate 2-word combinations (ex. more juice)

24 months

  • Expressive vocabulary of 200 – 300 words

27– 30 months

  • grammatical morphemes emerge, but not mastered until about 41 – 46 months
  • early pronouns (I, me, mine, my)

1 – 2 years

Children use language to:

  • gain attention, request information, and call others
  • name, describe, and give information beyond the immediate situation
  • describe activities, describe intent to carry out an activity, refuse and protest
  • imitate, answer, respond, and question

2 1/2 – 3 years

  • Can introduce new topics in conversation, but difficulty sustaining topic beyond 1 – 2 turns
  • Can acknowledge conversational partner, but don't often wait their turn or build a bridge in conversation
  • Use dialogue to talk about events that happened to them

3 years

  • Expressive vocabulary of 900 – 1000 words
  • Begin to gain better perspective on conversational needs
  • Begin to adapt their language to needs of partner
  • Cannot yet clarify a misunderstood message (usually just repeat it louder!)

3 1/2 years

  • Relate stories about recent events

3 – 5 years

  • begin to use comparatives (ex. bigger) and superlatives (ex. biggest), better and best develop later

4 years

  • Expressive vocabulary of 1500 words
  • adult-like syntax including expanded noun and verb phrases, negative sentences, yes/no questions, wh- questions (what, where, who, why, when), causal constructions (because), conditional constructions (If ... then), temporal constructions (when ...)
  • can describe event sequences

5 years

  • Expressive vocabulary of over 2000 words
  • Word definitions are concrete consisting primarily of referent's appearance and function (ex. scissors are silver and for cutting)
  • Get what they want by asking directly!

6 years

  • Expressive vocabulary of 2600 words
  • Receptive vocabulary of 20,000 – 24,000 words

7 years

  • Identify and explain metaphors (ex. He has a heart of stone.) – related to cognitive development
  • Begin to understand the psychological meanings of words, such as sweet, cold, and bright
  • Phonological ambiguity is understood somewhat – beginning to understand jokes of this sort (Ex. "Why did the clock go to the doctor?   Because he was tick.")
  • Use more indirect means to gain needs

Middle Childhood

  • Begin to use nonliteral language such as jokes, riddles, and metaphors
  • Learning about idioms (ex. It's raining cats and dogs.)


  • Word definitions become more abstract including synonyms, explanations, and categories
  • Define words with more socially shared meanings
  • Definitions include concrete, literal and non-literal meanings (when appropriate)
  • Semantic relations include concepts of time, space, causation, and sequencing of action
  • Correct interpretation of if and although may not occur until age 11 years. Unless may not be understood completely until age 15
  • Pragmatically – can gain and hold adults' attention in socially acceptable manner; direct and follow peers; use others as resources; express affection, hostility, and anger when appropriate; express pride in themselves and accomplishments; role play; compete with peers in storytelling

Form adapted by Kate Ross, MS, CCC-SLP from: Bernstein, Deena K. and Ellenmorris Tiegerman-Farber.  Language and Communication Disorders in Children, Fifth Edition.  Allyn and Bacon Publishers; Boston: 2002.

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