Is it difficult to teach young children to speak?
That’s a good question. Actually, we don’t usually need to “teach” young children to speak. Babies are born with the ability to communicate things like pleasure and discomfort through non-verbal means such as facial expressions, crying, moving, etc. They actually learn to talk very naturally through social interactions with their families and other people. Learning to talk usually occurs within the first two years of life. What starts out in the first few months as crying, gurgling and cooing, eventually turns into babbling, words and sentences.
It is important to know that a child learns to talk by first learning to understand what is being said to him or her. As you probably know, this is one reason that being able to hear is really important for learning to talk. Babies are able to understand much more than most people think which is why it is so important for others to talk a lot to babies, read, sing and play with them. Up to about 6 months of age, babies will vocalize by using their mouths and tongues to make sounds. At around 7 to 8 months of age, they begin to mimic others and may use repetitive sounds or one-syllable versions of words to express their thoughts and ideas. Babies continue to learn to speak by repeating and learning one word at a time. Between 12 and 15 months, babies may be able to say several words and understand many more. By the time they are 24 months, most babies are not only learning even more words but are beginning to put one or two words together. They are also able to follow simple commands and understand simple questions.
It is important to remember that while all children develop speech and language usually in the same stages, the rate of their development can vary. This is quite normal. Though learning to talk seems easy and natural for most children, some children struggle with learning to talk and may need early intervention services. Some children may have difficulty learning to communicate because they can’t hear their parents talking. These children may need the services of an audiologist (a trained professional who measures hearing loss and can fit hearing aids). In addition to hearing loss there are many other factors that may also interfere with communication development in children. In these cases families may seek the services of a speech-language pathologist (a specialist who evaluates and treats patients with speech, language, cognitive-communication and swallowing disorders in individuals of all ages, from infants to the elderly). Of course, families should also always discuss developmental concerns with their child’s health care provider.
For children with a suspected speech or language delay, early identification and early intervention services are critical. Taking a “wait and see” approach is not usually recommended since research shows that the development of speech and language during the infant and toddler years supports a child’s development in all of the other developmental domains.
I hope this answers your question. If you need other, more specific information, please let me know. For additional general information about speech and language development visit www.asha.org, www.zerotothree.org, or www.scpitc.org (refer to the South Carolina Infant Toddler Guidelines).