Recognising difficulties

Speech and language development in the first three years of life
By 6 months your baby will:

  • turn towards a familiar sound when they hear it, for example a favourite rattle
  • watch your face when you are talking to him/her
  • seem to know your voice
  • smile and laugh in response to your smiles and laughs
  • make sounds to himself/herself, like cooing, gurgling and babble for example ba-ba
  • make noises to get your attention, like coos or squeals
  • make noises when she/he is talked to
  • have different cries for different needs: a one cry for hunger, another when she/he’s tired
  • look into your eyes for quite a long time

At 18 months, children start to use language in a more recognisable way. They also become more sociable.
By 18 months, your child will:

  • enjoy games like peek-a-boo and pat-a-cake and toys that make a noise
  • start to understand a few simple words, like ‘drink’, ‘car’
  • understand simple instructions like ‘kiss mummy’ and ‘give me’
  • point to things when asked
  • use up to 20 simple words, such as ‘cup’, ‘daddy’ and ‘dog’
  • gesture or point, often with words or sounds to show what they want
  • copy lots of things that adults say and gestures that they make
  • start to enjoy simple pretend play (talking on the phone)

18 and 24 months
Children try out new things and explore the world around them. They often choose their own activities and may not always like being told what to do. Your child will also often miss the ends off words at this stage.

By 2 years, your child will:

  • concentrate on activities for longer, like playing with a particular toy
  • listen to simple stories with pictures
  • understand between 200 and 500 words
  • understand more simple questions and instructions (‘where is your book?’ and ‘show me your head’)
  • copy sounds and words
  • use 50 or more words
  • start to put short sentences together with 2-3 words
  • enjoy pretending games with their toys, such as feeding dolly
  • use a limited number of sounds in their words – often these are p, b, t, d, m and w

By 3 years your child will:

  • listen to and remember simple stories with pictures
  • understand longer instructions, such as ‘give me your shoes, please’
  • understand simple ‘who’, ‘what’ and ‘where’ questions
  • use up to 300 words
  • put 4 or 5 words together to make short sentences, such as ‘want more juice’
  • ask lots of questions
  • use action words as ‘run’ and ‘fall’
  • start to use simple plurals by adding ‘s’, for example ‘shoes’ or ‘cars’
  • often have problems saying more difficult sounds like sh, ch, th and r
  • now play more with other children and share things
  • sometimes sound as if they are stammering or stuttering

They are usually trying to share their ideas before their language skills are ready. This is perfectly normal, just show you are listening and give them plenty of time.

What should concern me about my child speech and language development?

My child is between 6- 12 months.
You should contact your GP, health visitor if your child does not:

  • respond to noises by 9 months
  • point to things by 12 months
  • try to gain your attention by making noises by 12 months. This could be through eye contact, facial expressions or reaching

My child is between 12- 18 months
You should speak to a GP, health visitor or speech and language therapist if your child does not:

  • babble by 12 – 15 months
  • say his/her first words by 18 months
  • respond well to language, such as not following simple instructions like ‘kick the ball’

My child is between 18 – 24 months
You should speak to a GP, health visitor or speech and language therapist if your child does not:

  • follow simple instructions
  • say 25 recognisable words

My child is between 2 – 3 years
You should speak to a GP, health visitor or speech and language therapist if  your child does not:

  • say what he/she wants
  • join words together into short sentences
  • respond to your instructions
  • understand your commands
  • speak clearly (other people can understand your child)

Key Message
Do not wait, early intervention is key to improving your child’s communication skills. There can often be a lengthy delay between referral and appointments. So come and talk to us – we are a key bridge between you and health and education services.


You might find the information contained in these videos helpful:

Introducing the RALLI Campaign

What is SLI?

How is specific language impairment identified
by D. Bishop