The 7 Stages of Language Acquisition in Children

Language acquisition is a magical journey, one that shapes the very essence of human communication. This journey begins in our early years, when we want to make ourselves heard through coos and babbles, then slowly evolves into our first words, and ultimately to a fully developed linguistic capability. 

However, not everyone’s journey is as simple or as magical as it sounds, and some of us struggle with language skills and fluency well into adulthood. This can have a huge impact on our personal and professional development, and it can hinder our relationships with others and cause frustration within ourselves. 

So, what does this language acquisition journey entail, when does it start, and why is it so important? It basically happens in stages, like we’ve mentioned, and every stage is crucial to developing lifelong language and communication skills. Let’s go through these stages to see what they entail. 

1. The prelinguistic stage (0 to 12 months)

This is the very first stage of the language acquisition process. While it might sound like your newborn is making random sounds and noises, like cooing or babbling, you should know that they are in fact in the first stage of developing language skills. The cute sounds that infants make are basically their attempt to communicate. This stage usually starts with cooing and other similar sounds, leading then to babbling and incorporating vowels and consonants. 

2. The holophrastic stage (12 to 18 months)

Also known as the single-word stage of the language acquisition process, the holophrastic stage is the next step towards fluent communication. This is when children start to use single words, following the examples of their parents and other people talking around them, to communicate basic needs. While your child might only say one word at a time, like ‘mama’ or other simple words, they are in fact trying to convey much more, they just don’t have all the tools to do that just yet. 

3. The two-word stage (18 to 24 months)

This is where it starts to get interesting. Your child might start to use more than one word at a time to send a message and communicate their needs and wants. They might start to use two-word combinations to form simple phrases, and while they won’t be super-sophisticated words or sentences, you’ll likely start to understand what they’re trying to convey when they use them. 

4. The telegraphic stage (24 to 30 months)

Like the name suggests, the telegraphic stage basically involves children aged 24 to 30 months trying to communicate in very short sentences, just like one would write in a telegram. More often than not, these short sentences will miss verbs, prepositions, or articles, and will include only the ‘main’ words, if you will, the most important ones that will convey the message. But this is the first step towards building full sentences, and one of the most important steps in the language acquisition process. 

5. The early multi-word stage (30+ months)

This stage is when children start to expand their vocabulary and begin to use more and more words in their sentences. They also have better and more advanced grammar skills, so they will begin to use verbs, plurals, and other structures in their speech. This is like turning a telegram into a short and concise letter. 

6. The later multi-word stage (3 to 4 years)

Later on, as a child continues to learn new words and start mastering their grammar, they will begin building full and more complex sentences. You might notice they’ll start to use prepositions, conjunctions, and play around with different structures, while their prosody will also improve. 

7. The mature stage (5+ years)

Finally, if all goes well, a child will reach the mature stage of language acquisition around 5 years old, or perhaps a bit later. This is where their grammar is better, their vocabulary more expansive, and their confidence in their communication skills more pronounced. They should be able to communicate and speak fluently and clearly with the people around them, with minor mistakes or difficulties. 

Before you go 

These, of course, are the stages that children usually go through in their early years of language acquisition. Unfortunately, if a child struggles with dyslexia, ADHD, or other learning disabilities that prevent them from making progress from one stage to the next, they might require some extra help. Reach out to Da Vinci Collaborative to learn how our specialists can help children and teens struggling with language skills or reading fluency. With specialized help, your child or student can make progress and overcome challenges to reach their full potential and build self-confidence. 

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