Speech, Language and Communication

The Stages and Sequences of Speech, Language and Communication from Birth to 7 Years Old

Speech, language and communication skills are learnt and developed through interaction and responses to that interaction. It is the exchange of information and emotions using constructed verbal sounds and actions that have meaning and with complex rules. Communication is not only verbal but also conveyed through the written word using symbols.

Babies are competent communicators before they can understand or use the spoken word. They are born communicators and thrive on sensitive face-to-face interaction. 


At Birth





Is born ready to communicate with those around, but needs experience and cooperative responses

Responds to sound especially familiar voices

Copy facial expressions – ‘O’ shapes and tongue protrusions – known as ‘pre-speech’ Colwyn Trevarthen

Makes eye contact

Indicates by crying need for food or in discomfort from being dirty


1-4 months




Quietens when picked up

Quietens to familiar voice

Smiles when spoken to by familiar person.

Responds excitedly to people talking in ‘motherese’ or ‘fatherese’

Beginning to experiment with sounds, pre-babbling, coos, chuckles, gurgles and blows raspberries

Beginning to control oral nerves and muscles of mouth

Cries when annoyed or uncomfortable

Shows feelings and emotional needs

Enjoys and begins to anticipate with excitement everyday activities and routines

Shows excitement at sound of approaching footsteps or voices

Loves one to one games and singing

4-6 months

Laughs and vocalises with intonation, squealing with delight during play

Still smiles and communicates with familiar people and strangers

Recognises own name

Recognises main carers voice from a distance

Makes tuneful, sing-song babbling sounds to self and others

Listens and may imitate inflection and uses single or double syllables e.g. ‘goo’, ‘da da’ (echolalia) 

Cries when there is a sudden noise or in annoyance

Smacks lips or sucks in response to the sound of food being prepared, in the same way as anticipating a breast feed


6-9 months




Understands meaning of ‘bye-bye’, ‘ma ma’, ‘da da’, ‘no’, ‘ta ta’, ‘up’ and ‘down’

Babbles constantly which sounds like real speech

Imitates playful vocal sounds like smacking lips, coughing and 


Recognises familiar sounds such as a washing machine, telephone ring, vacuum cleaner

Holds arms up purposefully indicating a wish to be picked up

Gestures as well as verbalises needs

Uses sounds to express emotions

Begins to understand emotional intonation in carers voice and copies

Clearly distinguishes a stranger from close family and friends. Becomes wary and may hide face and need reassurance

Enjoys interactive game such as peek-a-boo


9-12 months

Recognises and responds to familiar people, sounds and own name

Can point with index finger to something of interest

Drops and throws an object purposefully and watches where it has fallen, even if it is out of sight. Verbalising and gesturing for it to be picked up

Understands simple instructions associated with a gesture. Knows more than can say (passive vocabulary). 

Understands ‘no’!

Continually babbles in tuneful, speech-like tones (cadences) which contain most vowels and consonants 

Learning first words (active vocabulary)

Waves ‘bye bye’ when asked


12-18 months





Understands and can name a few objects in picture form also can turn several pages of a book at once.

Demands by pointing with index finger and vocalising or screaming for a wanted object which is out of reach

Realises the importance of language and can say a few recognisable words 

Understands ‘no’, ‘show me’, ‘look’

Points to parts of body, familiar people and objects when asked

Echoes and repeats words (echolalia)

Uses symbolic words meaning more than one thing, e.g. ‘up’ or ‘dog’ used for all 4 legged animals (holophrases)

Range of powerful emotions, swinging quickly from calm to frustration and clingy and resistant

Becoming more independent

Shows affection to those who are close

Affectionate to familiar people and emotionally dependent for reassurance

Understands and follows simple instructions

Waves spontaneously

Becoming more sociable is fascinated by other toddlers and will playing along side another (parallel play), but has difficulty in sharing


18-2 years





Learning new words very quickly

Talks all the time

Echolalia almost constantly (repeats words) and uses them on own soon after

Starting to use telegraphic sentences – 2-3 key words e.g. ‘throw away’

Uses most words appropriately and understands many more

Beginning to use pronouns e.g. ‘I, me, you’.

Correctly pronounces most vowels and ‘n, m, p, h’

Understands simple familiar verbs such as eat, sleep

Starting to ask questions 

Uses negatives

Joins in nursery rhymes and songs

Makes animal sounds e.g. ‘moo’

Often resistive when asked to do something they don’t want to


2-3 years





Uses writing and drawing skills in and on different media

Learning new words very quickly. Knows about 50 words and says about 40

Understands some spatial concepts such as in, on

May use telegraphic sentences e.g. ‘me want ball’

Beginning to ask questions

Talks non-stop

Beginning to use negatives e.g. ‘no teddy’

Beginning to understand the concept of 1 and lots

Uses language to describe thoughts and ideas, using descriptive words such as big, happy

Uses 'I, me and you', knows own name

Speech modulating in loudness and pitch

Large vocabulary intelligible even to strangers but speech contains immature phonetic substitutions and unconventional grammatical forms

Uses personal pronouns and plurals correctly and also most prepositions

Listens to stories and wants then again and again


3-4 years





Expresses needs more coherently 

Sentences are more grammatically correct but may get endings wrong e.g. ‘drawed sheeps’

Begins to recognise speech patterns but applies them consistently without realising they often have irregular forms e.g. ‘ed’ – ‘I goed’ or ‘I ranned’

Uses a variety of questions but continually questioning Why? When?, How? What? Where?

May mix up sounds like ‘th’ of ‘f’

May use 1,500 words

Uses positional words e.g. ‘under, over’

Uses verbs that end in, ‘ing’

Answers simple questions and repeats sentences

May mispronounce words

Begins to use humour in language

Talks about past and future

Can give full name and almost address

Can speak more than one language if heard whilst they have been growing up 

Shows only a few immature phonetic substitutions usually ‘r-l-w-y’ groups or ‘k-t’ sound groups

Will argue with words more than with physical out bursts

Tries to work out what’s right and what’s wrong behaviour

Enjoys adult and pet company as well as peers

Joining-in play and takes turns 

Shows empathic feelings and concerns for others and will comfort them if hurt

Make friends and interested in having friends

Shows affection towards friends and siblings


4-5 years





Says about 200 - 300 different words

Fluent in speech and mostly grammatically correct

Understands spatial concepts e.g. ‘behind’, ‘next to’

Understands complex questions 

Speech is understandable all but more complex words

Asks about abstract words e.g. ‘What does beyond mean?’

Uses some irregular past tense verbs e.g. ‘ran, fell’

Correct except ‘s-f-th’ groups

Talks about past, present and future

Describes how to do things 

Defines words and categories 

Answers why? Questions 

Can imitate letters with circular and horizontal movements, traces shapes and can copy a square

Interested in writing and reading – maybe able to read

Recognises name when written and attempts to write it

Loves to be read stories and will act them out later, on own or with friend

Can name 4 or more primary colours and match 10 or 12 colours

Can give age, full name and address and birthday

Will respond to reasoning based on experience

Understands right and wrong

Enjoys jokes and riddles showing a sense of humour and shows humour in actions and play on words

Cooperative with playmates


5-7 years

Understands more than 2,000 words

Understands time sequences – what happened first, second

Carries out a series of 3 directions 

Understands rhyming 

Engages in conversation, using 8 more words in sentences

Uses compound and complex sentences to express ideas and thoughts 

Uses imagination to create stories and describes objects

Understand age appropriate narratives in books e.g. stories having a plot and different characters

Understand difference between reality and fantasy

Understand different situations require different ways of talking

Think in a more coordinated way and can hold more than one point of view

Be able to think and reason, plan ahead and evaluate what they do

Know concepts of all measurements

Increasingly developing literacy skills and start to read independently around 7


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