Language is used to communicate our needs, wants and desires. It is used to tell about our experiences , and also to understand what others are saying. In typical language development, children are like sponges that soak up the language they hear daily, learning the grammar rules automatically, without external direct teaching.

The three main areas of language are:

1.    Receptive Language - the understanding and processing of verbal information, including vocabulary, concepts and syntax (grammar)
2.    Expressive Language - how the child uses vocabulary and syntax to express their needs, feelings and experiences
3.    Pragmatic Skills - how the child uses the social rules of conversation to communicate appropriately to others, e.g., turn-taking within a conversation, topic maintenance, eye contact.

A language disorder may involve a difficulty in one or more of the above areas of language.


What is a typical language development?

At 6 - 12 months, children usually:
enjoy babbling, e.g., baba, mama
understand 'No', 'Where's....?'
imitate actions, e.g., wave good-bye
attempt copying of sounds

By age one, children usually:
understand simple instructions, e.g., wave 'bye', come here
recognise his/her own name, and names of familiar people
start to develop an expressive vocabulary (single words)

By age two, children usually:
have an expressive vocabulary of 25-50 words
start to put two words together, Mummy go, Daddy shoe
understand simple sentences
talk to themselves or toys when playing
enjoy listening to stories and naming the pictures in the story

By age three, children usually:
use 3 to 4 word sentences
are understood mostly by familiar adults

By age four, children usually:
use 4 to 5 word sentences
use more grammatically correct sentences
answer questions such as 'What's a spoon for?'
ask a lot of questions
understand names of shapes and colours
are intelligible to most people most of the time

By age five, children usually:
talk about preschool experiences, etc
explain why something happened
tell how they feel
use mostly grammatically correct sentences
are understood by strangers
count to 10 by rote

By age six, children usually:
use adult-like language (sentences are long/complicated)
continue to understand more and more words
use sentences with correct grammar most of the time
retell stories accurately
count to 30 by rote

What should I do if I suspect my child has a language disorder?

If in doubt as to your child's level of language development, a Speech Pathologist can conduct a Speech and Language Assessment to analyse all areas of your child's language.

A Speech and Language Assessment is recommended when:


  • the child's speech is difficult to understand (particularly by people other than the mother. It is quite common for Speech Pathologists to hear reports that the mother can understand what her child means, however few other people can)

  • the child gets frustrated by their lack of communication and conversational skills (which can lead to behavioural problems),

  • the child has difficulty following instructions and understanding others in general (and where a hearing test has ruled out a possible hearing impairment)