Babies may not understand our words at first, but they understand our tone of voice, listen to our sounds and associate them with whatever they are experiencing at that moment (bath, feeding, play). Your baby is learning about the sounds (speech) that make words (language) when you talk to them.

Pathways of Speech and Language Development

5 steps for a child to learn how to develop speech and language

Your child experiences the world using the senses they have available. For example, the child experiences a cat by looking, listening, touching and smelling it. At this point in their exploration, they are unable to label or describe what they see, hear, feel and smell with real words. Instead, they may use other sounds or cries of excitement to express themselves.

The child has learned something new about the world they live in through exploration. The child has learned a new idea but they do not have a word to describe it.

The child’s brain is able to store the experience of the cat – how it looks, how it feels and how it smells – but now they need a word to describe it and to share it with others.

The child’s caregiver knows all of the words to describe the child’s experience. When the child points at the cat, the caregiver introduces the key words that expand the child’s learning about this object:  “Cat!”

The child can now match the object with the word.

The child listens to the word and notices the different sounds coming from the caregiver’s mouth that make the word. Children learn all the sounds of speech by eight years of age. A young child may make errors that are appropriate depending on their age. For example, an eighteen month old child may say “Tat!” instead of ‘cat’, but by three and a half, they should be able to say that sound easily.

Age Sound Acquired
0-3 years p, b, m, n, t, d, h, w, and vowels
3½ years k, g, f, y, ng
4 years s, sp, sm, sn, st, sw, sk and z
4½ years l, pl, bl, kl, gl, fl and sh
5 years ch, j
8 years v, th, r, pr, br, tr, dr, kr, gr, fr


When the child wants to say the word, they select the sounds they remember that make the word “c-a-t”. The child is learning about the sounds that make speech.



Now that the child has chosen the sounds and placed them in the right order, they begin to use their motor neurons to move their lips, tongue, jaw, palate and vocal cords in precise coordination to clearly say the sounds that make the word, “Cat!” Now the child is truly communicating with speech and language.

Recognizing Speech Delay

As infants grow into toddlers, they understand more words  than they use.

Sometimes parents and even health professionals may wait to see if a child will ‘grow out of it’, but many won’t. You can use the communication checklist to find the speech and language developmental milestones for your child (birth to age four) to help you decide if your child has a delay.

Early identification and treatment of speech and language delays will help your child prepare for junior kindergarten.