Language Development: Six to Twelve Months

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Last week on the blog I talked about the communication development that happens in the first six months of life. This week, we’re looking at communication development from six months up to one year of age. This age is critical for language, as children are laying the foundational skills necessary for first words and beyond.

6 to 9 MONTHS OF AGE

Variegated babbling

In the birth to 6 months language development post, we talked about the emergence of reduplicated babbling. Following on from this developmental milestone, as your child rounds the 6 month mark, they may begin to expand on the earlier repetitive type of babbling with a more complex form of babbling known as variegated babbling, where children will start to include multiple consonant and vowel sounds within a babble. For example, you may begin to hear something like ‘ba-wa-wee-duh’. Check out the video below for a lovely example of this new type of babbling.

You may also notice from the video that, as well as the variation in the sounds being used, variegated babbling also includes variation in the rhythm and volume of parts of the babble. Some sounds are stretched, some sounds are short, some are loud and some are quiet. This is your baby working towards producing adult sounding conversation.

Different sounds for different emotions

From around six months of age, your child will be learning to distinguish between their own emotions. They will start to know there is a difference between hungry, tired, hurt and happy, and you will begin to notice a much bigger difference in the cues they give you when they experience them. This is when you can expect to see the development of cues beyond crying, laughing and smiling. Your little one may start to add grunts of frustration, sighs and squeals of delight to their repertoire.

Responding to their name

By around the 8 month mark, your little one will be becoming more self-aware and will begin to connect their name to themselves. You will begin to see them turn to you, respond with giggles and smiles, or even know they’ve been caught doing something they shouldn’t when they hear their name.

Understanding common words

As well as learning their name, this period is also when children develop their early receptive language skills and begin to understand a handful of common words, like ‘dog’, ‘cat’, ‘ball’ and ‘car’. The specific words will differ greatly depending on what words they hear frequently, and what they really enjoy, but you will begin to notice your child looking to objects that you have named and/or becoming excited when you name an object they love.

Joint attention

Now this is one that we Speechies get really excited about. Joint attention is the ability for two people to share a focus on an object or activity, and in these months is when a child will begin to understand that another person’s attention can be on the same thing as theirs. The reason we get so excited about this milestone is that it’s a prerequisite skill for engaging with others and having a conversation, and without it conversations cannot occur. When your child is developing joint attention, you will begin to notice that they look at an object of interest, then up to you to check that you’re looking, and back to the object.

9 TO 12 MONTHS OF AGE

Object permanence

Object permanence is a cognitive skill, in which children become aware that an object continues to exist, even when it is not seen. At around the 9 month mark, your child should start to be able to locate an item that they have seen being hidden (e.g. under a blanket, behind some furniture). This is an important milestone as it is a precursor for symbolic development (and words are symbols) and is essential for your little one to be able to talk about anything that is not within their immediate view.

Copying gestures

By 9 months of age, your child will be starting to copy the movements and actions you do.  This step is so important, as it is the first of many steps that will help your child to develop the ability to imitate spoken language. The ability to imitate words is a big part of the mechanism by which children learn to talk. At this early stage of imitation development, your child will begin to copy actions like clapping, covering their face when playing peek-a-boo, giving high fives and more.

Using communicative gestures

As your child becomes a pro at copying gestures, they will start to be able to use the gestures they’ve learnt in a communicative way. Some common early developing communicative gestures include shaking their head no, putting their arms up to be picked up and waving. If you’re using signs with your child, this is also the point at which you may notice some signs beginning to emerge, even before spoken language does.

Conversing back and forth

Having pretend conversations is another important development to look for in your child as they head towards their first birthday. You will notice your child using their babbling to answer you, almost as if they are trying to have a chat with you. You may also notice them having their conversational turn, and stopping and waiting for your reply. This stage shows that your child is beginning to understand the structure and social rules of a conversation, and has the desire to converse with you, even if they don’t quite have words to use yet.

Understanding high frequency short phrases

In the 6 to 9 month age range, your child was beginning to understand some high frequency words. Now, your child’s receptive vocabulary (the words they understand) is growing, and they will begin to understand some short phrases that they hear a lot in their day to day lives. Some examples might be “all gone”, “where’s your blanket?”, “ta for mummy”, etc.

Learn more about typical language development with these other posts in our language development series:

Birth to Six Months
One Year Old
Two Years Old
Three Years Old
Four Years Old
Five Years Old