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Foundation: Expressive Language

California Infant/Toddler Learning & Development Foundations.
The developing ability to produce the sounds of language and use vocabulary and increasingly complex utterances
8 months 18 months 36 months

At around eight months of age, children experiment with sounds, practice making sounds, and use sounds or gestures to communicate needs, wants, or interests.

At around 18 months of age, children say a few words and use conventional gestures to tell others about their needs, wants, and interests. (By 15 to 18 mos.; American Academy of Pediatrics 2004 270; Coplan 1993, 1; Hulit and Howard 2006, 142)

At around 36 months of age, children communicate in a way that is understandable to most adults who speak the same language they do. Children combine words into simple sentences and demonstrate the ability to follow some grammatical rules of the home language. (By 36 mos.; American Academy of Pediatrics 2004, 307; 30–36 mos.; Parks 2004; 24–36 mos.; Lerner and Ciervo 2003; by 36mos.; Hart and Risley 1999, 67)

For example, the child may:

  • Vocalize to get the infant care teacher’s attention. (6.5–8 mos.; Parks 2004)

  • Repeat sounds when babbling, such as “da da da da” or “ba ba ba ba.” (By 7 mos.; American Academy of Pediatrics 2004, 209; 6–7 mos.; Hulit and Howard 2006, 122; scaled score of 10 for 7:16–8:15 on Bayley 2006, 106; 4–6.5 mos.; Parks 2004; 6 mos.; Locke 1993)

  • Wave to the infant care teacher when he waves and says, “bye-bye” as he leaves for his break. (6–9 mos.; Parks 2004, 121)

  • Lift arms to the infant care teacher to communicate a desire to be held. (7–9 mos.; Coplan 1993, 3; 5–9 mos.; Parks 2004, 121)

For example, the child may:

  • Look at a plate of crackers, then at the infant care teacher, and communicate “more.” (Scaled score of 10 for 16:16–17:15; Bayley 2006; 14–20 mos.; Parks 2004)

  • Point to an airplane in the sky and look at the infant care teacher. (17.5–18.5 mos.; Parks 2004, 123)

  • Use the same word to refer to similar things, such as “milk” while indicating the pitcher, even though it is filled with juice. (18 mos.; Meisels and others 2003, p. 37)

  • Use two words together, such as “Daddy give.” (18 mos.; National Research Council and Institute of Medicine 2000, 127)

  • Shake head “no” when offered more food. (18 mos.; Meisels and others 2003, 37)

  • Jabber a string of sounds into the toy telephone. (18 mos.; Meisels and others 2003, 37)

  • Gesture “all gone” by twisting wrists to turn hands up and down when finished eating lunch. (12–19 mos.; Parks 2004, 122)

  • Use made-up “words” to refer to objects or experiences that only familiar adults will know the meaning of; for example “wo-wo” when wanting to go next door to visit the puppy. (12–22 mos.; Hulit and Howard 2006, p. 130)

For example, the child may:

  • Use the past tense, though not always correctly; for example, “Daddy goed to work,” “She falled down.” (27–30 mos.; Hulit and Howard 2006, 182; 30–36 mos.; Parks 2004; 28mos.; Hart and Risley 1999, 95 and 129–30)

  • Use the possessive, though not always correctly; for example, “That’s you car” or “Her Megan.” (Scaled score of 10 for 34:16–35:15; Bayley 2006)

  • Use a few prepositions, such as “on” the table. (33-35.5 mos.; Parks 2004, p. 116)

  • Talk about what she will do in the future, such as “I gonna get a kitty.” (33–36 mos.; Hart and Risley 1999, 131)

  • Use 300–1000 words. (35+ mos.; Parks 2004, 116)

  • Use the plural form of nouns, though not always correctly; for example, “mans,” and “mouses.” (By 36 mos.; American Academy of Pediatrics 2004, 307; 28 mos.; Hart and Risley 1999, 95)

  • Express, “Uncle is coming to pick me up.” (36 mos.; Hoff 2005)

Behaviors leading up to the foundation (4 to 7 months)

During this period, the child may:

  • Squeal when excited. (5mos.; Lerner and Ciervo 2003; by 7 mos.; American Academy of Pediatrics 2004, 209)

  • Make an angry noise when another child takes a toy.
    (5–6 mos.; Parks 2004)

  • Make a face of disgust to tell the infant care teacher that she does not want any more food. (6–9 mos.; Lerner and Ciervo 2003)

Behaviors leading up to the foundation (9 to 17 months)

During this period, the child may:

  • Babble using the sounds of his home language. (6–10 mos.; Cheour and others 1998)

  • Consistently use utterances to refer to favorite objects or experiences that only familiar adults know the meaning of; for example, “ba ba ba ba” for blanket. (9 mos.; Bates, Camaioni, and Volterra 1975; 12 mos.; Coplan 1993, 3; 12 mos.; Davies 2004, 166; 9–10 mos.; Hulit and Howard 2006, 123)

  • Express “Mama” or “Dada” when the mother or father, respectively, enters the room. (10 mos.; Coplan 1993, 1)

  • Say a first word clearly enough that the infant care teacher can understand the word within the context; for example, “gih” for give, “see,” “dis” for this, “cookie,” “doggie,” “uh oh” and “no.” (Mean age 11 mos.; Hart and Risley 1999, 56)

  • Name a few familiar favorite objects. (Around 12 mos.; Coplan 1993, 3; mean age 13 mos., range 9–16 mos.; Hulit and Howard 2006, 132; between 10 and 15 mos.; National Research Council and Institute of Medicine 2000, 127)

  • Change tone when babbling, so that the child’s babbles sound more and more like adult speech. (By 12 mos.; American Academy of Pediatrics 2004; 7.5–12 mos.; Parks, 2004; 7–8 mos.; Hulit and Howard 2006, 123)

  • Use expressions; for example, “uh oh” when milk spills or when something falls off the table. (12.5–14.5 mos.; Parks 2004)

  • Say “up” and lift arms to be picked up by the infant care teacher. (Scaled score of 9 for 16:16–17:15 mos.; Bayley 2006, 108; 12–14 mos.; Parks 2004, 132)

Behaviors leading up to the foundation (19 to 35 months)

During this period, the child may:

  • Tend to communicate about objects, actions, and events that are in the here and now. (12–22 mos.; Hulit and Howard 2006, 141)

  • Use some words to refer to more than one thing; for example, “night-night” to refer to bedtime or to describe darkness. (12–22 mos.; Hulit and Howard 2006, 132)

  • Use many new words each day. (18–20 mos.; Coplan, 1993, 1; 18–24 mos.; Hulit and Howard 2006, 137)

  • Begin to combine a few words into mini-sentences to express wants, needs, or interests; for example, “more milk,” “big doggie,” “no night-night” or “go bye-bye.” (18–20 mos.; Coplan 1993, 1; 24 mos.; Meisels and others 2003, 47; by 24 mos.; American Academy of Pediatrics 2004, 270; 18–24 mos.; Hulit and Howard 2006, 143; scaled score of 10 for 32:16–33:15; Bayley 2006, 114; 20.5–24 mos.; Parks 2004, 133)

  • Have a vocabulary of about 80 words. (19 mos.; Hart and Risley 1999, 61)

  • Start adding articles before nouns, such as, “a book” or “the cup.” (20 mos.; Hart and Risley 1999, 63)

  • Use own name when referring to self. (18-24 mos.; Parks 2004)

  • Ask questions with raised intonations at the end, such as “Doggy go?” (22–26 mos.; Hulit and Howard 2006, 144)

  • Communicate using sentences of three to five words, such as “Daddy go store?” or “Want more rice.” (30 mos.; Coplan 1993, 1; 25 mos.; Hart and Risley 1999, 63)

Next Foundation: Communication Skills and Knowledge

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Questions:   Early Education Division | itfoundations@cde.ca.gov | 916-322-6233
Last Reviewed: Wednesday, December 28, 2022
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