Speech and Language are often used interchangeably, which is incorrect. There is a difference between the two. Speech is the ability of humans to produce specific sounds to communicate with other humans. Language is a set of well-accepted rules created by humans to express their thoughts and emotions to others so that they are understood. Language includes talking, writing, and using sign language. Speech allows a person to orally express language.
Infants start communicating in the early days of their lives. They learn how to make sounds like crying, cooing and gurgling. They realize that certain sounds will get them what they want. For example, they learn that crying will get them food and comfort. At this point they also start making sense of and recognizing certain specific sounds like their mother's voice. As they grow older, they are able to recognize speech sounds (phonemes) that make up words of their mother tongue.
As the jaw, lips, tongue, and voice develop, a child is able to convert unintelligible babbling sounds into more controlled ones. By the age of six months, he is able to produce repetitive meaningless syllables like 'ba, ba' or 'da da' and by the end of the first year, he is able to say a few simple words.
By twelve months, children start realizing that controlled sounds can be used to communicate meaningfully and therefore, start speaking a few 'real' words. By eighteen months, most of them are able to say between eight to ten words and by the age of two, they are able to put them in crude sentences like 'I go.' As they learn real words, they also learn the concept of symbolism. They learn that certain words represent certain things, emotions, or actions. From the age of three, children's vocabulary starts increasing rapidly and they start learning the rules of language.
As with physical development, language development also varies from child to child. There is however, a timetable (developmental milestones) to master the skills of language. Doctors use these milestones as a guide to see if a child is developing normally.
Given below is a timetable for different age groups (between the ages of 1 and 3 years), which will help you to assess if your toddler is developing his speech and language skills as per normal schedule.
12 - 17 months
Follows simple directions with gestures. Can wave goodbye and "ta ta". Understands 'no' and 'yes'. May use one-word sentences to communicate, for example dada, teddy, baby in the beginning. Then the toddler begins to utter simple two/three word sentences like baby teddy, baby milk, see moon etc. It seems that the child's speech is like a telegram i.e. uses telegram speech.
Answers simple questions non-verbally or with a simple yes or no, or a word. Points to objects and family members. Has a total vocabulary of about ten words at 13-14 months, which may increase up to 20-25 words by 18 months. Warning signs: A child not talking at all and not being able to make useful social gestures like "Bye -Bye". Or he sometimes responds and sometimes does not as if he is "moody" or lost in his own world.
18 - 24 months
Follows simple directions without gestures e.g. "Go get your shoes." Can put together crude sentences like 'I potty'. Points to simple body parts like 'nose', 'ears', and 'eyes'. Understands and uses simple verbs like 'eat' and 'sleep'. Understands and uses nouns like 'spoon' and 'milk'. Correctly pronounces most vowels. Asks for common foods by name. Says 8 to 10 words (pronunciation may still be unclear). Makes animal sounds such as 'moo' and 'bow bow'. Warning signs: Child using more gestures than words.
2 - 3 years
Uses about 40-50 words but understands more. Knows some spatial concepts such as 'in,' and 'on'. Knows pronouns such as 'you,' 'me,' 'her'. Knows descriptive words such as 'big,' 'happy' Speech becomes more clear and accurate. Answers simple questions. Begins to use more pronouns such as 'you,' 'I'. Speaks in two to three word phrases. Uses question inflection to ask for something (e.g., "My ball?"). Begins to use plurals such as 'shoes' or 'socks' and regular past tense verbs such as 'jumped.' By the age of three, he becomes a more sophisticated speaker and starts modulating his voice to fit the situation. Can tell his name and names of close family members. Warning signs: Child gets frustrated while trying to talk. Can't put two meaningful sentences together.