Is My Child Ready to Start Talking: Importance of Prelinguistic Language - Mosaic Health & Rehab (2022)


Did you know, as soon as babies are born, they start to develop communication skills? Before toddlers start talking, babies learn prelinguistic (before language) skills. These skills will help to support language learning later in life. Prelinguistic communication is the way babies communicate without using words. Even as adults, we continue to use prelinguistic skills to communicate. Prelinguistic communication includes: gestures, eye contact, facial expressions, non-word vocalizations, imitation, and joint attention. Development of these skills set children up to be successful verbal communicators.

(Video) Speech and Visually impaired Children

Why is Prelinguistic Language Important?

Prelinguistic skills form the foundation for which talking and understanding language is developed. A baby who has difficulty looking at their mother and attending to her while she is talking has fewer opportunities to see how words and sounds are made. They also have fewer opportunities to attach meaning to those words. Compare this to a child who enjoys watching their mother’s face. The child who is watching and attending is learning how the mouth moves to make sounds and words. This child is better able to attach meaning to what they are hearing and seeing.

In addition, infants and toddlers with joint attention difficulties (when you and your child are looking at or attending to the same thing at the same time) will have less opportunities to learn about things in their environment. When a child looks at something with an adult, and the adult comments on that thing, it provides a chance for the child to attach meaning to a word and learn more about the world. If the child cannot attend to things with adults, they lose out on these learning opportunities.

One common example would be if you are outside and hear an airplane. You and your child look up to the sky at the airplane, and you point and say, “airplane.” If your child has joint attention difficulties, they may not be able to follow your gaze or point up to the sky. So, when you say, “airplane,” they are looking at something different and are unable to attach meaning to that word.

Is My Child Ready to Start Talking: Importance of Prelinguistic Language - Mosaic Health & Rehab (1)

Infants who have difficulty developing prelinguistic skills will likely face challenges developing verbal language skills and may also have difficulty interacting with others. Working on developing prelinguistic skills early on may lead to less difficulties communicating as your child moves from infancy to toddlerhood and beyond.

Skills Necessary to Develop Prelinguistic Communication

Looking and Listening

Babies look to their mother’s face as soon as they are born. They learn to discriminate human faces and recognize which faces are important. The ability to attend visually will allow babies to gain information about language by watching faces and mouths. Similar things occur with listening. Babies start to recognize human voices and learn which ones are important.

Turn Taking

Turn taking begins to develop within the first weeks after your baby is born. Parents begin responding to their baby’s smiles, vocalizations, and movements by adding sounds, actions, and words. Eventually, parents begin to leave gaps in their responses to allow their baby to respond. This develops into a back-and-forth interaction. You make a funny noise, your baby smiles, you make the noise again, your baby laughs and vocalizes.


Babies begin smiling around six weeks of age. When babies smile, it fosters increased interactions between babies and their caregivers. Adults are more likely to continue interacting with babies when they are rewarded with a response like a smile. When babies are responsive to adult interactions, adults initiate communication more often.

Anticipation and Prelinguistic Language

By three months of age, babies should start to show excitement when they hear sounds associated with familiar situations. For example, your baby becomes excited when she hears the bathwater running because she knows it is almost bath time. During this time, awareness of gestures and facial expressions also expands. Babies show increased understanding that facial expressions and gestures carry meaning, and babies begin anticipating what will happen next based on a specific gesture or facial expression.


Imitating others fosters social interactions. By the time babies are nine months old, they should be able to copy simple gestures (hand clapping) and playful mouth movements (blowing raspberries, smacking lips, etc.). Children are more likely to be successful imitating words and phrases, if they are able to copy movements and gestures as an infant.

Joint Attention

Joint attention is when your baby is able to follow your focus of attention so you are both attending to the same thing at the same time. Babies should attend jointly to things with their parents and other adults. Joint attention also includes a baby’s ability to direct someone else’s attention to what they are interested in. By 12 months of age, toddlers should be able to point to what they are interested in. This encourages adults to engage even more, by naming the objects the toddler is pointing to. Non verbal communication skills continue to develop even as children begin to develop verbal language skills. Non verbal language remains strongly linked to verbal communication throughout language development.

Prelinguistic Language and Understanding

In a child’s first 12 months of life, understanding is based on non-language cues they pick up in the environment. This includes pointing, gestures, direction of eye gaze, and facial expressions. By 12 months of age, children should develop understanding of words such as “no” and “bye.” Many children have difficulty understanding because adults speak too quickly. This makes it difficult for children to pick out the important words in time. As children get older, this becomes easier.


Infants and toddlers need to be able to effectively communicate before they are able to start using first words. This occurs through nonverbal communication and includes use of gestures, facial expressions, vocalizations, and body language. First words appear between 10 to 15 months of age.

Is My Child Ready to Start Talking: Importance of Prelinguistic Language - Mosaic Health & Rehab (2)

Is Your Child Having Difficulty with Prelinguistic Skills?

If your child is having difficulty developing prelinguistic skills you may notice these things:

  • Your child does not make eye contact or eye contact is limited
  • Does not use different sounds and vocalizations to indicate feelings (happy, sad, tired, etc.)
  • Child does not respond with a social smile
  • Not producing playful vocalizations or babbling as a baby
  • Limited or no use of gestures or voice to gain attention from others
  • Difficulty or not attempting to copy facial expressions or gestures
  • Child does not enjoy others playing with them or alongside them
  • Does not attempt to show you things or draw your attention to things they find interesting
  • Your child does not respond to different gestures or tones of voice (happy face/voice versus angry face/voice)

How to Improve Prelinguistic Language

  • Take some time each day to play with your baby or child. This could include peek-a-boo or songs and finger plays for babies and dress up and hide and seek for toddlers and children. Reading books together is also great at any age.
  • Participate in joint attention. Follow your child’s gaze and talk about what they are looking at or interested in using simple language.
  • Talk to your baby or child throughout the day. Explain what you are doing so your child begins to link words with actions.
  • Simplify your language. Use shorter sentences and age-appropriate vocabulary. Also,slow downwhen you are talking to give your child more time to comprehend what you are saying.
  • Get on your child’s level. When you areface to face with your childwhen speaking, they can watch how your mouth moves and learn how to form sounds. They will also learn more about facial expressions.
  • Eliminate background noise. Turn off the TV or radio, so your baby or child can start to distinguish voices better.
  • Vary your intonation and voice. Changing your intonation will help to gain your child’s attention.

For more ideas on activities to do with your toddler to encourage both prelinguistic and verbal language, you can check out another one of MOSAIC’s blogs Birth to Five Language for Real Life. Parents Magazine also has some great activities you can easily do at home with your infant. If you have any questions regarding your infant or toddler’s language development reach out to one our skilled speech therapists at Mosaic Health & Rehab (406) 388-4988.


Why are Prelinguistic skills important? ›

Why is Prelinguistic Language Important? Prelinguistic skills form the foundation for which talking and understanding language is developed. A baby who has difficulty looking at their mother and attending to her while she is talking has fewer opportunities to see how words and sounds are made.

How do you develop Prelinguistic skills? ›

Five Strategies to Build Your Child's Pre-Linguistic Skills
  1. Let your child show you what he or she wants.
  2. Play games (Social games/People games)
  3. These games help develop:
  4. Examples of games: 'Round & Round the Garden' and 'chase/tickle'
  5. *Tip: Wait between turns or repetitions of the game. ...
  6. Gentle Sabotage.
14 May 2015

Why is speech and language important in a child's development? ›

Proper speech and language skills give children the ability to understand others. When we learn that others have feelings and needs, just as we do, it helps us develop empathy and compassion. Generally, this understanding brings about significant emotional and behavioural developments.

How does speech language and communication skills support the development of other areas? ›

Speech and language skills underpin many other areas of children's development by: providing a strong foundation for other areas of learning, such as reading and writing and enabling access to the whole curriculum. supporting communication skills. promoting social skills and forming friendships.

What is pre verbal autism? ›

We say that they do not yet have communicative intent. A pre-verbal child may communicate intentionally, but does not yet use words (or symbols) to communicate. We are usually referring to children who have learned that the key to communication is getting a message across to someone else.

What is the Prelinguistic stage of language development? ›

The prelinguistic stage ranges from birth to approximately 6 months. Noises in this stage include crying, whimpering, and cooing. These sounds are not considered language because they are involuntary responses to stimuli. Linguists consider human language creative – as free from internal or external stimuli.

What are all the Prelinguistic skills? ›

There are nine main pre-linguistic skills our speech pathologist recommends parents focus on with their children before they begin speaking.
  • Eye Contact.
  • Joint Attention.
  • Anticipation.
  • Pointing/Reaching.
  • Facial Expression/Body Language.
  • Social Gestures/Signs.
  • Turn-Taking /Social Routines and Sequences.
  • Babbling/Symbolic Noises.
7 Jul 2021

What are early communication skills? ›

Early communication skills, such as: looking, joint attention, taking turns and listening are regarded as the foundation to speech, language and communication development. During everyday activities, the way you communicate and interact with your child can help them practice these early communication skills.

Why is speech and language therapy important? ›

Speech and language therapists provide life-changing treatment, support and care for children and adults who have difficulties with communication, eating, drinking and swallowing. You'll help people who, for physical or psychological reasons, have problems speaking and communicating.

How do children develop communication and language skills? ›

Here we look at simple ways encourage and enjoy your child's language development.
  1. Get your child's attention. Face your child or sit down with them. ...
  2. Have fun together. ...
  3. Comments not questions. ...
  4. Give them time to think. ...
  5. Use simple language. ...
  6. Repeat what you say. ...
  7. Make it easier for them to listen. ...
  8. Build on what they say.

What are the early learning goals for communication and language? ›

What are the Early Learning Goals (ELGs)?
  • Communication and Language the new framework only has two goals instead of three (Listening, Attention, and Understanding is one; Speaking is the other). ...
  • Physical Development includes a more significant focus on the link between gross and fine motor skills.
7 Jun 2021

How can you support a child with speech language and communication difficulties? ›

Here are five ways you can help your children develop their basic communication skills.
  1. Read Books Together. It can be difficult for a child with speech and language problems to share their thoughts and ideas with the world. ...
  2. Describe Your Environment. ...
  3. Use a Variety of Words. ...
  4. Sing Out Loud. ...
  5. Sign Everything.

How speech language and communication skills support children's emotional development? ›

Speech and language communication enables children to build positive relationships, form friendships and learn by listening, talking and questioning. Good speech, language and communication skills have a positive impact on confidence and self-esteem.

What teaching strategies are effective for promoting language development? ›

Below we highlight eight ways to support language and literacy skills development in your own early childhood classroom.
  • Capture children's interest before you read. ...
  • Introduce vocabulary during a read-aloud. ...
  • Share the see-show-say strategy with families. ...
  • Highlight children's favorite books.
3 Aug 2021

Will a nonverbal autistic child ever talk? ›

The researchers found that, in fact, most of these children did go on to acquire language skills. Nearly half (47 percent) became fluent speakers. Over two-thirds (70 percent) could speak in simple phrases.

Can a child be nonverbal and not autistic? ›

When people hear that a child is nonverbal, they often think of autism (ASD). While some individuals with ASD are nonverbal, there are a variety of other conditions that cause a child to be nonverbal, pre-verbal, or have emerging or delayed verbal skills, either short-term or long-term.

How do you know if your autistic child will be non verbal? ›

Some symptoms include: not spontaneously initiating or responding to conversation. using only a few words or not speaking in complete sentences. using sounds as opposed to words to communicate — although, in some cases, parents and caregivers may understand the meaning of these sounds.

What are the 5 stages of speech development? ›

Students learning a second language move through five predictable stages: Preproduction, Early Production, Speech Emergence, Intermediate Fluency, and Advanced Fluency (Krashen & Terrell, 1983).

Which stage is the most important for language development? ›

Pre-Talking. This stage takes place from birth to around six months of age. During this time, the child does not speak, but is beginning to understand short words and phrases that are central to their needs and interests.

What are the 5 basic aspects of language development? ›

Linguists have identified five basic components (phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics) found across languages.

When Should speech therapy start? ›

The best age for speech therapy is the age your child is at when they start to fall behind, or when you notice they're not meeting milestones. It's never too early or too late to start therapy. Children who aren't speaking at all are commonly referred for speech and language assessments around 18 months of age.

What activities promote speech language and communication? ›

Activities to Encourage Speech and Language Development
  • Say sound like "ma," "da," and "ba." Try to get your baby to say them back to you.
  • Look at your baby when he makes sounds. ...
  • Respond when your baby laughs or makes faces. ...
  • Teach your baby to do what you do, like clapping your hands and playing peek-a-boo.

What helps delayed speech? ›

How Can Parents Help?
  1. Focus on communication. Talk with your baby, sing, and encourage imitation of sounds and gestures.
  2. Read to your child. Start reading when your child is a baby. ...
  3. Use everyday situations. To build on your child's speech and language, talk your way through the day.

What age should children be intelligible? ›

By age 5, a child following the typical development norms should be 100% intelligible. Errors in pronunciation can still occur, but this just means that a stranger should have no problem understanding what the child is trying to say.

What are language skills in early childhood? ›

Language skills in young children develop in a three-step process that involves hearing the words repeatedly, making an association between familiar words and what they represent, and attempting to imitate or speak the words.

What are prerequisites of speech development? ›

Prerequisites are the first step for the language development as soon as child's birth. These are the methods in which adult communicate through gestures, facial expressions, imitation, joint attention, eye contact.

How can I improve my child's communication skills? ›

10 Ways to Improve Your Grade-Schooler's Communication Skills
  1. Talk regularly with your child.
  2. Describe the day.
  3. Listen to and reflect what your child says.
  4. Have practice conversations with your child.
  5. Point out body language.
  6. Start fun conversations with your child.
  7. Read with your child.

How do children communicate at an early age? ›

Babies communicate from birth through crying and eye contact, and then simple sounds and gestures. Talking and responding to babies helps them develop language and communication skills.

How effective is speech and language therapy? ›

Conclusions: An average of 6 h of speech and language therapy in a 6-month period can produce significant improvement in performance, and it has been shown to be more effective than no treatment over the same 6-month period for children with primary speech and/or language impairment.

Will speech therapy help my child? ›

Pediatric speech therapy helps treat children with communication challenges, both in how they speak and how they understand communication. Speech therapy also treats oral motor concerns, such as chewing and swallowing, as well as articulation, auditory processing and social skills.

How do speech and language therapists promote positive outcomes in children? ›

A speech therapist can support your child's cognitive development by teaching them cognitive-based learning strategies to improve their problem solving, reasoning, writing and reading skills.

What is the importance of developing language skills? ›

Language is absolutely central to your learning: without it, you cannot make sense or communicate your understanding of a subject. You will need to develop your language skills, and specifically, your academic English, in order to: understand and make the most effective use of your study materials.

How do you develop communication and language? ›

Reading is one of the best ways to encourage communication and language development. As an infant, hearing words and seeing pictures helps a child understand the two are connected. This lays a foundation for speech, which begins around nine months and typically increases as a child grows.

Why is communication and language important? ›

Speech, language and communication skills are crucial to young children's overall development. Being able to speak clearly and process speech sounds, to understand others, to express ideas and interact with others are fundamental building blocks for a child's development.

Why are Metalinguistic skills important for successful language development? ›

you have the tools for comprehension with metacognition. Metalinguistic ability also sets you to successfully begin to learn another, new language. As a result, you can start to compare and contrast the languages and remember that in one language you do a-b-c, whereas in another, the rule is d-e-f.

What is pre linguistic skill? ›

Prelinguistic skills, or pre-language skills, begin to develop as soon as your baby is born! This means that long before your baby says their first word, they are learning valuable non-verbal skills such as eye-contact, joint attention, motor imitation, facial expressions, gestures such as pointing, and more!

What are examples of Metalinguistic skills? ›

Types of metalinguistic abilities are: phonological awareness, word awareness, syntactic awarenesss, and pragmatic awareness, or in other words analyses of knowledge and the control of cognitive operations involving language processing (Bialystock 1988).

How might verbs be important in the diagnosis and prognosis of SLI? ›

verbs are important in the diagnosis and prognosis for SLI because English speaking children with SLI are known for their persistent difficulties with grammatical forms, specifically verb-tense marking. verb tenses typically emerge around 2 - 3 years old.

Which is the most important factor in learning a language? ›

Top 4 Factors That Influence Language Learning in Children
  1. Exposure to the New Language. When learning a new language, the most important factor is exposure. ...
  2. The Age of the Learner. ...
  3. The Learner's Native Language. ...
  4. The Learner's Motivation.
2 Feb 2019

What is metalinguistics speech therapy? ›

Metalinguistic skills are strategies that are applied, either consciously or automatically, to an oral or written linguistic interaction to allow one to think about language and a linguistic message, to analyze a message, and to control language processing within the communicative culture (Bialystok, 1986).

What does metalinguistic awareness develop in children? ›

Metalinguistic awareness requires the speaker to focus on the structure and form of the language and develops in later stages of language acquisition around the age of 5–6, building on earlier linguistic knowledge (Duncan et al., 2009).

What are the 5 stages of language development? ›

The Five Stages of Learning a New Language
  • Stage 1: Pre-Production. During this stage, the student is normally silent while listening to new words and gaining an understanding of the language.
  • Stage 2: Early Production. ...
  • Stage 3: Speech Emergence. ...
  • Stage 4: Intermediate Fluency. ...
  • Stage 5: Advance Fluency.
15 Jul 2022

What are pre speech activities? ›

Pre-language skills are the ways in which we communicate without using words and include things such as gestures, facial expressions, imitation, joint attention and eye-contact. These are the skills that set children up to be ready to talk and communicate.

What are language skills in early childhood? ›

Language skills in young children develop in a three-step process that involves hearing the words repeatedly, making an association between familiar words and what they represent, and attempting to imitate or speak the words.

What do metalinguistic abilities allow children in middle childhood to do? ›

It's the child's ability to think about and manipulate language forms that can often determine how well they learn a new language concept.

What is another word for metalinguistic? ›

Metalinguistic synonyms

Find another word for metalinguistic. In this page you can discover 3 synonyms, antonyms, idiomatic expressions, and related words for metalinguistic, like: phonemic, phonological and non-linguistic.

What are some ways in which teachers can promote metalinguistic awareness? ›

Some teaching strategies for metalinguistic awareness are for example self-talk, predicting, paraphrasing and summarizing. Self-talk is like a running commentary that goes on inside our head. It is silent thinking, that's when we try to make sense of what we hear, see and feel, and of course reflects on our actions.

Is SLI a learning disability? ›

SLI is not the same thing as a learning disability. Instead, SLI is a risk factor for learning disabilities, since problems with basic language skills affect classroom performance. This means that children with SLI are more likely to be diagnosed with a learning disability than children who do not have SLI.

What is the difference between language delay and disorder? ›

A language delay occurs when a child's language skills are acquired in a typical sequence, but lag behind peers their own age. A language disorder is characterized by atypical language acquisition significantly disrupting communication across settings.

What is SLI disability? ›

Specific language impairment (SLI) exists when a child's language difficulty cannot be accounted for by general delay in development, hearing loss, physical abnormality of the speech apparatus, ASD, apraxia, or acquired brain injury.

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