Written by: Isabelle Lessard
Contrary to popular belief, speech development is not a linear evolution. It is multidimensional and marked by a series of key stages. Language explosion is one of these stages, where the child’s vocabulary increases at an incredible rate over a short period. Since early childhood is a time when mom and dad are on the lookout for all the new exploits of their offspring, learning about the upcoming stages is a good way to fully enjoy each milestone.
There are several stages to language development. Before making sounds, babies first learn to perceive those they hear. They will then start trying to communicate through means other than crying. From about 6 weeks old to 3 or 4 months old, babies babble and experiment with different sounds, starting with vowels. At this stage, if babies mimic a sound they hear, it isn’t really deliberate: they are exploring their own capacities, which explains why they babble even when alone.
Then, from 6 and 10 months old, they start trying out syllables, like ma-ma-ma, da-da-da and ba-ba-ba. This babbling can easily be confused with first words, since ma-ma-ma can easily be seen as an intentional attempt at saying “mama”!
In addition to babbling, baby simultaneously develops other subtle but important skills: he or she begins to follow an adult's gaze to focus on the same object. This opens the door to a new way to communicate: if baby can be interested in what an adult is looking at, the opposite is just as true! This marks the start of the pointing stage. Then, between 9 and 12 months, they also learn other conventional signs, such as waving bye-bye, nodding or shaking their head to say yes or no, as well as reaching out to be held.
Once their vocabulary reaches some fifty words, the capacity of babies to learn new words kick-starts and keeps this momentum from 16 months to 20 months, and sometimes even 24 months.
Before the explosion, learning new words takes more time. Children might learn 2 or 3 new words per week; after the explosion, they can learn up to 10 new words per day! Of course, not all children have the same learning rhythm; according to various sources, this number may vary from 4 to 20 new words every day.
These milestones shouldn’t go unnoticed! Get your phones out, capture the magic and keep track of their progression in your baby books that always seem too empty.
After the language explosion, your little ones will slowly keep adding to their vocabulary, but will mainly focus on learning how to combine these bits and pieces to form short sentences such as “want juice” or “give cup”. They will also start using words referring to things that aren’t physically there. By the time they turn 24 months old, their vocabulary should reach about 300 words.
It’s simple: just talk to them! Use a varied vocabulary and different tones for maximum efficiency! But what should you talk about? Honestly, anything! Hold your child, walk around the house and describe household objects, simple actions and anything you can think of―I promise you will have a captivated audience. Reading to your child is also fantastic exposure to more sophisticated words and sentences of varying structures. Finally, remember that praising their progress is key to keeping them motivated!