Major milestones in child language acquisition

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Language acquisition occurs to the process through which young children are able to acquire language. The specific period during which the young learners acquire the language is referred to as the critical period (Fromkin et al, 2018). Overtime linguists have established a milestone through which the normal child irrespective of where he/ she is born will follow in order to become competent. In the normal case, the simple skills need to be achieved before the more complex ones are carried out (Slobin et al, 2014).  Doctors and speech therapist rely on this milestone for them to be able to assess why some young learners are taking an overly long time to acquire and use language. In the unfortunate eventuality, that a child has passed a certain stage without acquiring the linguistic requirements of the group the learner is most likely expected to have difficulty in the next phase and may even require assistance.

In this study, we will try to come up with a breakdown of the specific milestones that have been achieved by linguists across the world (Fromkin et al, 2018). An insight into each group and the competency expected of them will foster our understanding of the entirety of a language acquisition. Note that the process of language acquisition is innate and not as a result of teaching of the language in question.

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From birth to 5 months

Language acquisition in children is a process that is initiated immediately after birth. At this time, the baby is only able to react to loud sounds as well as turn his head towards the direction from which the sound has originated (Slobin et al, 2014).  In addition, the child is also able to maintain eye contact with whoever is speaking to it. After the first two months, the child is able to vocalize pain and pleasure as well as make specific noises when talked to. Note that, the language of the child at this stage is not specific and is often influenced by a reaction to the environment rather than because of the child articulating what he/she requires.

From 6-11 months

During this critical stage, the child is able to babble. In essence, babbling refers to the production of sounds such as ba-ba-ba or ma-ma-ma. These sounds prepare the vocal tract of the child for the subsequent phases, which will involve speech (Slobin et al, 2014). Additionally, the child is able to understand simple signals such as no-no or Yes (Fromkin et al, 2018).  Eventually, when the child approaches the 9-11 month the child is able to communicate in gestures. These gestures may involve the child pointing at whatever he/she requires. Ultimately, the child tries to repeat the words spoken by individuals and as a result is able to articulate some simple one or two syllable words heard in its environment.

12-17 months

At the ages of one year to 17 months, the child is able to carry out simple tasks such as attending to a toy for short periods of up to 2 minutes. In addition, the child at this stage is also able to follow simple directions that are accompanied by gestures. After a while, the child can answer simple questions non-verbally (Slobin et al, 2014). For instance, the child might respond by pointing the mother incase he/she is asked the question. During this critical stage, the child becomes familiar with what is basic in its surrounding. For instance, the child can identify simple objects such as the family’s house, their car and the family members (Fromkin et al, 2018). Even though the pronunciation of some of the words uttered by the child may not be correct, he or she will be able to utter two words that are usually not accompanied by conjunctions since they have not made that part of their language. Unlike in the previous stage where the child often tried to imitate the sounds that it hard in this stage the child is able to imitate whole words spoken by individuals in the surrounding. It is important to note that this is the first step the child takes into uttering full words and sensible basic sentences. In fact, the innate nature of the process is what makes most native speakers have the ability to communicate using the correct subject verb order.

18-23 months

During this period, the child can follow simple commands without possibly requiring the use of gestures. In fact, at this stage the child understands the basics of the language and can even ask for food (Slobin et al, 2014).  In addition, the child is also able to pronounce simple vowels as well as the nasals /m/ and /n/ (Fromkin et al, 2018).  The child is also able to produce sounds made by animals such as moo and meaaw. This shows that the vocal tract of the child is almost fully developed and through environmental interactions, the child can boost its vocabulary. Note that, considering most of the infants in this period are at the selfish age the child would often use the equivalent of “mine” and “more” frequently as compared to any of the milestone age groups that will be looked into.

2-3 years

At around two- 3 years the child is able to properly articulate about 50 worlds. in addition the child is able to understand some spatial concepts such as in and on. In addition, it is only at this point that most children are able to uses pronouns and differentiate individuals of the different sexes through them (Slobin et al, 2014). Though the speech in a majority of these children is eloquent it may still miss some endings of some sounds. In fact, research has indicated that only the individuals who closely know the child are able to understand him effectively. In addition, the language of the young learners develops some inflections while the young children are asking questions. Finally, the child at this stage is also able to use the plurals of words, their past tenses as well as the different forms of the words (Fromkin et al, 2018). Unlike in the previous phase where the child uses the words me mine and more, in this phase the child is able to use the words “you” and “ours” more frequently.

3-4 years

The milestone arrived at this stage involves individuals who are able to group objects such as foods, clothes etc.  The learners in this class are also able to indentify different colors. While the individual is able to pronounce all the sounds effectively, he may have some difficulties while trying to pronounce sounds such as l, r and sh (Slobin et al, 2014).  Note that, the mastery of such sounds may even take up to the age of 7-8 for someone to fully acquire. Additionally, the young learner is also able to use the –ing forms of words in the specific language. Finally, the infant is also able to describe simple objects such as forks and cars.

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4-5 years

At this penultimate level, the child is able to understand spatial concepts such as “behind” and “next to.” in most cases, the learners are also able to utter between 200-3000 words. Most of their utterances are clear and can be understood by all the speakers of the language. Recent studies have also indicated it is at this stage that the learner is able to define words as well as list items belonging to specific category (Slobin et al, 2014). Finally, these learners are also able to answer simple questions such as why certain things occur in the way they do.

5 years

Though individuals continue to improve language competency throughout their lives it is at this phase that an individual acquires most of the basic words of the language. In fact, the young child is able to understand over 2000 words of the language they are trying to acquire (Fromkin et al, 2018). While the language is similar to the one in the previous segment the child is able to engage in meaningful conversations that utilize sentences that have more than eight words in their structure. the use of complex and compound sentences is crucial  for this important stage.


It is important to note that these milestones were achieved after research carried out on multiple individuals across the world. The milestone form a basis for the standard language acquisition that an individual is expected to have acquired by the age of five (Fromkin et al, 2018). If the individual does not acquire language during this critical phase the individual may never fully grasp the language. Note that, it is therefore important to expose a child to its environment at this crucial step.

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  1. Slobin, D. I. (Ed.). (2014). The crosslinguistic study of language acquisition (Vol. 4). Psychology Press.
  2. Fromkin, V., Rodman, R., & Hyams, N. (2018). An introduction to language. Cengage Learning.
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