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There is no simple answer that explains where words come from. So, as parents and teachers help children to talk, they should understand that there is no clear theory that explains how children learn the language they need to become skillful in reading and communication.

However, there are some key theories that have been developed to explain language learning : behavioural, linguistic and interactional.

Looking at the theories and the history of language theory development helps us think about language development from different points of view.The shortcomings of these theories illustrate that language is not easily explained.


The earliest theory about language development assumed that children acquire language through imitation.

While research has shown that children who imitate the actions of those around them during their first year of life are generally those who also learn to talk more quickly, there is also evidence that imitation alone cannot explain how children become talkers.


The following timeline gives an overview of the ages at which children generally acquire language.

Here are just a few of the important things your child might achieve in language development between three months and six years.

3-12 Months

In this period, your baby will most likely coo and laugh, play with sounds and begin to communicate with gestures. Babbling is an important developmental stage during the first year and, for many children, words are beginning to form by around 12 months.


Babbling is often followed by the 'jargon phase' where your child will produce unintelligible strings of sounds, often with a conversation-like tone. This makes his babbling sound meaningful

First words also begin by around 12 months. Babbling, jargon and new words might appear together as your child's first words continue to emerge.

12-18 Months

During this time, first words usually appear (these one-word utterances are rich with meaning), and by 18 months babies used around 50 words. Babies can understand more than they say, though, and will be able to follow simple instructions. In fact, your baby can understand you when you say 'no'-although she won't always obey!

If your baby isn't babbling and isn't using gestures by 12 months, talk to your doctor, child and family health nurse or other health professional

18 Months to 2 Years


In his second years, your toddler's vocabulary will probably grow to around 300 words, and he'll start to put two words together into short 'sentences'. He'll understand much of what is said to him, and you'll be able to understand what he says to you (most of the time!).

Language development varies hugely, but if your baby doesn't have some words by around 18 months, talk to your doctor, child and family health nurse or other health professional.

2-3 Years

Your baby will be able to speak in longer, more complex sentences, and use a greater variety of speech sounds more accurately when she speaks. She might play and talk at the same time. Strangers will probably be able to understand most of what she says by the time she's three.

3-5 Years


Now the child is a preschoolar, you can expect, longer, more abstract and complex conversations. He'll probably also want to talk about a wide range of topics, and his vocabulary will continue to grow. He might well show that he understands the basic rules of grammar, as he experiments with more complex sentences. And you can look forward to some entertaining stories, too.

5-6 Years

During the early school years, the child will learn more words and start to understand how the sounds within language work together. She'll also become a better storyteller, as she learns to put words together in a variety of ways and build different types of sentences 


Children grow and develop at different rates, and no child exactly fits a description of a particular age. In each area of development there is a fairly predictable order or sequence of events, but there is also a wide variation in what's normal. If you have any concerns, ask your child and family health nurse, GP or paediatrician or see a speech pathologist.