One of the most critical skills that develop in children is that of verbal abilities. Humans have three verbal systems which include spoken language, reading and written language. The first verbal system acquired is that of the spoken word which through the auditory channel acquires meaning in the brain of an infant. An important aspect of language development is that word meaning must be acquired before words can be used as words. This phase of language development is known as inner language or the language which the young child uses to think. It is also the native tongue or the language which is most spoken within the child's home. Inner language typically develops by the age of nine months. Because it is the first and the most fundamental aspect of language acquired, it becomes remarkably rigid and fixed. A child with a disorder of inner language may have difficulty in acquiring meaning of words or have a deficiency in transforming experiences into verbal symbols. Children who exhibit this disorder present with exceedingly significant problems to remediate.
The second phase of language development is receptive language, or the ability to comprehend the spoken word. Receptive language develops simultaneously with inner language from birth to about two years of age. Deficiencies in receptive language are second in severity only to problems with inner language. Receptive language inadequacies can appear in both visual (reading) or in auditory channels. Both inner language development and receptive language development are difficult to assess at an early age as both rely on input being processed in the brain.
Developmentally, when the child has acquired meaningful units of experience (inner language) and when comprehension has been established (receptive language), expressive language is the last phase of language development. This verbal behavior, like receptive language, is of two types - visual and auditory. Expressive language skills develop from about twelve months to twenty-four months of age. Children who are late talking should be evaluated by a speech/language pathologist to determine if a problem exists. Difficulties in output (expressive language) are much easier to recognize than those concerns in input (inner language and receptive language).
A rough guide to development of language skills is as follows:
- expect first words to appear between twelve months and eighteen months of age
- anticipate a large growth in expressive language by the age of two years
- look for four to five word sentences by the age of four with proper grammar used most of the time
- make sure that other people understand what your child is saying by age four.
If you are concerned about your child's language development and your child is soon to be age three, contact your local public school district for an evaluation.