Speech Language Development

Understanding the theory behind speech language development is crucial for both parents and professionals. Parents needs to understand the big picture of language development is order to help their children work towards their goals. Speech language pathologists must also fully grasp how language develops and each area relates to each other in order to accurately assess and treat clients.

Speech and language skills allow us to express ourselves, form relationships, make our wants and needs known, read, write, learn in school and much more.

We communicate in one form or another all day long from day one!

To be honest, even as a speech language pathologist, it has taken me years to really wrap my head around all the aspects of speech and language development and how each area intertwines with another. It is complicated learning process.

Now, I know what you are thinking….shouldn’t all SLPs know this and use this information while working. Well, not necessarily. 

During grad school, my CFY and first few jobs, I worked with only adults in acute inpatient care, short-term and long-term rehab, and as outpatients. The idea of rehabilitation just clicked for me. TBI, aphasia, apraxia, dysarthria, dysphagia….I just got it!

Then, one job, switched me to outpatient peds and my whole professional career shifted! I feel in love with peds and enjoyed the challenge of habilitation. This was a whole new ball game. I wasn’t working on fixing/compensating an already built system, I was working on developing a system. Yikes! 

Now, I knew all about speech and language development from studying in grad school. However, it took me years to grasp how all aspects of speech language development relate to each other and how children develop these skills and how to best help them.

Here, I will explain all about articulation, expressive/receptive language, and pragmatic language skills. I’m not going to give you the textbook definitions, since, quite frankly, many other websites have already done that and have done a better job! Head on over to American Speech Language and Hearing Association (ASHA) for that. 

I will give you my clinical understanding of the fascinating realm of speech and language development!

There are 5 main areas of speech language development

Speech Development

Speech development refers to the motor development of our tongue, lips, breath support, voice, and jaw in order produce correct sounds and sounds within words. It is actually insanely complex!

Speech development may also be referred to as articulation.

Certain sounds are easier for children to say as they require less muscle coordination and movement. Therefore, children TYPICALLY learn certain sounds before others. If your child has trouble saying certain sounds, it may be developmentally normal. If you are concerned, please contact a speech language pathologist.

How well we say our sounds is how "intelligible" we are. By 4 years of age, a child should be 100% intelligible even if he/she makes articulation errors (i.e. saying "wabbit" for "rabbit").

Click here for more detailed information on speech development and when certain sounds develop. Check out an easy to read articulation by age chart.

Click here for more information on the various speech disorders.

Expressive Language

Expressive language is what we say (vocabulary & morphology) and how we say it (syntax/grammar).

We use expressive language to talk with friends, explain ideas, express wants and needs, and tell stories.

Vocabulary development is a very important part of expressive language. To learn more about vocabulary development and the difference between knowing a word and REALLY knowing what it means, click on vocabulary development. I HIGHLY suggest it!! 

If you want some quick ideas for grammar practice, we got you covered!

Receptive Language

Receptive language is what we understand. This includes understanding words, sentences, and stories.

We use receptive language skills to participate in conversations, learn in school, follow directions, and  understand stories. Our receptive language skills depend highly on our listening skills, language processing abilities, vocabulary, and working memory.

For games to encourage speech language development in these areas, check out:

Pragmatic Language

Pragmatics skills  are social language skills or social use of language. This includes turn taking skills, topic maintenance in conversations, body language such as eye contact, and much more.

Reading & Writing Skills (development page in the works!)

Our reading and writing skills are built upon our vocabulary, learned grammar structures, story grammar/narrative structure and phonological awareness skills. 

Phonological awareness is the realization that words are made up of sounds. Some examples of phonological awareness skills include rhyming, breaking words into syllables, and  identifying the first, middle, or final sounds in words.

Additionally, the emergent literacy theory of language states children start "learning to read" as babies!

What do I mean? Awareness of books, words in books, and simple story structure all start at a young age and is a necessary precursor to learning "how to read like adults read."

Click here for tips on how to encourage speech language development by reading to your baby or toddler. 

Bridget is an ASHA certified, practicing speech language pathologist. She is passionate about providing parents with information on child speech and language development as well as provide functional, easy activities to do at home! Parents have the power to make a real difference. Follow Bridget at Facebook and Pinterest for more fun!

Author of  child language development eBook series

› Speech Language Development