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The Sequence of Language Development

by Erica Loop, studioD

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association notes that language and speech are two separate things. Language includes making words, word combinations, understanding the meaning of words and using the right words in the right circumstances. Just like your child can't speak in her native language right from birth, she also can't use language without going through a sequence of development.


During the first year of life, your baby is beginning to build a foundation for language skills such as understanding and comprehension. By 7 months of age, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics' Healthy Children website, an infant can respond to her name, understand the word "no," make her own sounds in response to words and distinguish someone else's emotions by listening to their tone of voice. Between 8 and 12 months, your infant is increasingly paying more attention to other people's speech, listening to what they are saying and possibly responding with sounds or gestures.

Older Infants and Young Toddlers

As your child nears the 1-year mark, he will further develop the basic building blocks of language. According to the child development experts at PBS Parents, most infants by 12 months of age can understand up to 50 words, 120 words by 16 months and more than 200 words by the early toddler time of 18 months. The words that your child recognizes include nouns, verbs, adjectives and some pronouns. Additionally, he can comprehend commonly used phrases and short sentences such as, "Don't touch."

Older Toddlers and Young Preschoolers

After age 2, most children can recognize up to 700 words -- according to PBS Parents -- and between 800 and 900 by 30 months. During the late toddler and early preschool time, between 2 and 3 years, your child will likely develop the ability to follow one- and two-step directions and understand commonly used phrases. Another development that occurs during the end of this time period is the ability to create full sentences. For example, instead of saying, "Mommy go store" your child can say, "Mommy is going to the store."

Older Preschoolers and Kindergarteners

An older preshooler's receptive vocabulary, or words that she recognizes, will increase to between 2,500 and 3,000 words by 4 years old. By the end of the fourth year, your child will acquire another 2,000 words. These include words that describe concepts such as time, measurements and emotions. When it comes to word use, your child can now communicate using compound sentences that include more complex uses of language. She will also correctly use past tense and plurals for common words that she knows well.


The grade school years include a more sophisticated type of language development. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, kids in grade school can accurately listen to, respond to and remember multistep directions, pick out and identify sounds in words, give their own directions and start their own conversations. By the end of the grade school years, around grade five, most children have the language skills to draw conclusions after listening to information, participate in discussions on a variety of topics and even analyze an author's style.

About the Author

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.

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