After the birth, interaction between the baby and parents creates a foundation for speech and language learning. A child learns a language through everyday interaction: when you talk and listen to him or her, ask questions and answer his or hers. Also playing together, singing and reading enhance a child’s communication and language development.

A child’s speech and language development, however, is a unique process and, especially in early childhood, two children of the same age may have very different speech abilities. It is absolutely normal for a two-year-old to say only a few words or speak long sentences.

How can you support a child’s language development?

  • Reduce environmental distractions including mobile phones, computers, tv.
  • Play, sing and rhyme with your child every day.
  • Read a lot to your child, talk about the story together.
  • Focus on listening to the child giving time to express him- or herself.
  • Be patient and answer his or her questions, sometimes over and over again.
  • Keep on naming objects and activities to a young child.
  • When you do something, tell the child what you are doing.
  • Speak clearly and calmly, remember eye contact.
  • Use pictures, point at things, use baby signs to illustrate.
  • Be consistent with the rules and boundaries set for the child.

A child speaks so well as he or she can at that time. A child needs to know that he or she is loved and accepted just as he or she is. Encouragement given in the course of daily routines, a little at a time, regularly every day or several times a day, is most effective.

When should speech and language development be assessed or monitored?

  • Difficulty to understand speech combined with any family history of language difficulties always gives cause for further monitoring and support. If there are obvious concerns over the progress of a child’s language development, the development should be observed on a daily basis from various aspects.
  • Speech development is monitored at the child health clinic and, if necessary, the child is referred to appropriate support measures. Assessment is usually considered necessary, if a child does not understand speech by 18 months of age and does not say a word by 2 years old, does not produce any sentences by 3 years, or if his or her verbal communication is structurally irregular later on.
  • Assessment will take place earlier, if there is any reason to suspect hearing impairment or other developmental disorder. Mostly, however, that is not the case, but children understand what is being said and communicate with the parents in their own way. This type of benign speech delay is typical in some families.
  • At the early stages of speech development, incorrectly pronounced sounds are not uncommon. Most often S and R are such sounds. Individual incorrect sounds are rather common still with 15 % to 20 % of 5-year-olds and can be regarded typical of their age. Stammering is the result of many different factors and most often considered to be a not too harmful phenomenon.