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Early Language- The Foundational Skills

Updated: Mar 21, 2021

You have this new baby- so full of wonder and excitement! There are so many things you will learn and so many things this little one will learn as well. This baby will grow and with each passing day, they will develop new skills and YOU get to be a part of this!

You get to teach this little one how to communicate with the world around him/her!

Watching a child beginning to speak can be exciting! But did you know that your child goes through specific stages before learning to talk? There are 3 important stages that are important for your child’s communication development.

Phase 1: Attendance to Social Partners (birth to 6 months old):

Infants at this age enjoy looking at people’s faces, particularly your eyes! Even an infant who is 36 hours old would prefer to look at a person’s face with open eyes rather than closed eyes! They may attempt to imitate facial expressions such as sticking out their tongue or smiling. You may notice that you also imitate your child’s facial expressions!

Phase 2: Emergence and Coordination of Joint Attention (6 months to 1 year old):

Children begin to participate in “joint attention” which means they attend to an object with one or more people. For example, if you shake a rattle in front of your baby, and your baby looks at it, you are both engaging in joint attention because you are both attending to the rattle. Looking at pictures in a book together is another great way to participate in joint attention, which is critical for development! Children may also begin to intentionally communicate with people around 9-10 months old. For example, if your child is playing in the bathtub with some toys, and you point to another toy out of reach and say, “Look at the boat!”, your child may make a sound a sound to get you to pass it to them. When your child is done having a bath, they may raise their arms to communicate they need help getting out of the tub.

Phase 3: Transition to Language (1 year old and older):

This is when children use language to communicate. Giving verbal encouragement to infants’ attention can help with their language development!

Typically developing infants generally follow a predictable pattern of vocalizing. The Stark Assessment of Early Vocal Development contains five stages:

1. Reflexive Stage (0-2 months old): Your child produces sounds of distress such as crying, fussing, burping, coughing, and sneezing. Infants do not have control over these reflexive sounds!

2. Control of phonation (1-4 months): Your child may make cooing sounds, trills, clicks, and blow “raspberries” with their lips. The vocalizations will mainly sound like vowels, although they may not sound exactly like English vowels. They may even add a consonant produced at the back of the mouth such as “gaaaaaaa”. Sounds like “t” and “f” would be too tricky right now because they would have to use their tongue, lips, and teeth!

3. Expansion (3-8 months): Your child may produce isolated vowel sounds or glides such as the sounds “yeeeeee” and “weeeeee”. They may also play with the loudness and pitch of their voice such as squealing or using marginal babbling which is a consonant and a vowel (“baaaaaaaa”) or a vowel then a consonant (“ummmmmmmm”).

4. Basic canonical syllables (5-10 months): Your child may produce a lot more babbling! They may use single consonant-vowel sounds such as “ba”, reduplicated babbling such as “ma ma ma”, non-reduplicated babbling such as “ba ma gi”. It may sound like your child is beginning to talk because the sounds may resemble adult English speech!

5. Advanced forms (9-18 months): Your child may use diphthongs (vowel sounds such as “ay” as in “may”, “eye” as in “bye”, or “oy” as in “boy”) or they may also use jargon (gibberish, vowel/consonant combinations that sound like real words).

It’s amazing to watch the development of communication and language in young children!

Written By: Victoria Mannella Gupta

Adamson, L.B., & Chance, S.E. (1998) Coordinating attention to people, objects, and language. In A.M. Wetherby, S.F. Warren, & J. Reichle (Eds.), Transitions in prelinguistic communication, Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brokes.

Csibra, G. (2010). Recognizing communicative intentions in infancy. Mind and Language, 25, 141-168.

Justic, L.M., & Redle, E.E. (2014). Communication sciences and disorders: A clinical evidence-based approach. USA: Pearson.

Nathani, S., Ertmer. D.J., & Stark, R.E. (2006). Assessing vocal development in infants and toddlers. Clinical Linguistics and Phonetics, 20, 351-369.

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