Let’s talk about communication

My guest today is Marcy Fox.

Marcy is a speech pathologist and one of our fellow bloggers that I really have enjoyed getting to know. We are all challenged to help young children develop their speech and language and Marcy has provided us with some very important information about this process below…

Let’s Talk About Communication
By Marcy Fox

With at least 8% of young children having speech or language disorders, you are likely to have students in your classroom who aren’t talking as much as they should, or who don’t sound quite right when they are talking.

Let’s take a look at typical development, starting with some basic definitions:
Language is what we are communicating. It includes words and what they mean, how words and sentences can be put together, and how we communicate with different people—in other words, vocabulary, grammar, pragmatics (how we know how to talk to others) and the rules that control these.
In simple terms, language can be divided into two basic categories:
Receptive Language (the understanding of language) and
Expressive Language (the use of language).
Speech is basically how we talk–that is, how we move our mouth, tongue, lips, teeth, etc. to make sounds (a.k.a. “articulation”), what our voice sounds like or the rhythm of our speech (a.k.a. “stuttering” or “fluency”).
While both speech and language are involved in communication, they are a little bit different.
Of course, all children do develop at their own pace, but we do have some general guidelines about how speech and language develops and what we expect children to be able to do.
Let’s look at a very brief overview of language and speech development:
Babies hear sounds and words in their environment and practice the sounds through babbling. Eventually, their first words come at approximately 12 months. Earliest developing speech sounds include /p, b, m, w, t, d, n and h/ and simple Consonant and Vowel syllables are the easiest. No wonder “mama” and “dada” are common first words!!
Around 18 months, most kids have spoken about 20 words and may be beginning to use simple 2 word sentences, like “want mama” or “go kitty.” Most of their words are nouns followed by verbs. Children are normally 25% intelligible (“understandable”) to their parents.
At 24 months, your student’s vocabulary should have exploded to about 200 words and he or she should consistently use 2 word sentences. Following simple directions (like “clap your hands” or “give me the ball”) as well as pointing to body parts should be pretty easy by now. Mom and dad should understand a 2 year old 50-75% of the time and strangers understand him or her 50% of the time.
At 3 years, your typically developing preschooler uses 900+ words and an average of 3-4 word sentences. He or she follow 2 step directions (“pick up the ball and throw it to Tommy” or “open the door and give me the pencil). Intelligibility typically is 75-100% but should be at least 50% to unfamiliar adults.

Your 4 year old student has a 1500+ word vocabulary and uses longer, more complex sentences, including telling stories and personal events. He or she is able to answer and ask many questions. This student should be fully intelligible to everyone, although not all sounds will be used correctly yet.
As your students turn 5 years old, their conversations become more adult-like and shouldn’t have too many grammatical errors. They should have most speech sounds, except for /s, l, r, th, ch, sh/.
More details
There really are a lot more details that a speech-language pathologist would look at to determine if your student had a speech or language disorder or delay and these are just general guidelines which, if a student is NOT doing, should cause concern. Although there is such a thing as a “Late Talker,” it is better to err on the side of caution and have them seen by a speech-language pathologist. Early intervention can help prevent future difficulties in reading and writing and overall academic performance.

Additional Resources
Lots more information is available, including the wealth of information provided by the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA). Canadian teachers can also get assistance from their national organization, the Canadian Association of Speech Language Pathologists and Audiologists (CASLPA).
A little bit about Marcy Fox, M.A. CCC-SP

I’ve been a speech-language pathologist for about 11 years. I have worked in both a school and clinic setting with clients ranging in age from 2 all the way to middle school. Early intervention is my favorite, though!

I currently work within my own preschool special education classroom for 3- and 4-year olds with speech and language delays. Both my students and my beautiful 2 1/2 year old daughter, Rachel, are the inspirations for my blog.

Visit Marcy’s blog:  Foxy Toy Box

Thank you Marcy for sharing your expertise with us. Please feel free to leave Marcy a comment….



  1. says

    Hi Deborah and Marcy!
    This information is invaluable. I have a student who is in dire need of a speech-language pathologist. The child is 4 years old and I can’t understand anything he says. It’s all gibberish. The student attempts to communicate using gestures and most often, no one knows what he wants or needs.

    Two step directions are an impossible task for this child. When asked to follow a ONE step direction such as, sit on the line or pick up the ball or get a pencil, the child simply stops and stares.

    I have mentioned speech delay to the mother and was met with a furor of great magnitude. She swears “there is nothing wrong” with her child. I am not a speech-language pathologist but I know this kid needs help. I am at my wit’s end.

    Thank you Marcy for broaching this subject.

    Thank you Deborah for this wonderful blog full of riches.

    I’ll be back.

    • says

      You are in such a tough spot when you can really see there is a need that would really benefit from early intervention but the parent just can’t see or is afraid to acknowledge it. I hope you can find a way to communicate your concerns with this parent in such a fashion that she will find your concern supportive and having her child’s best interest truly at heart. Best wishes!

    • says

      That’s a tough one!!
      Maybe take a step back and let the parents guide you. Meaning, ask mom “tell me about how he follows directions at home,” “how does he let you know what he wants at home,” “how much can you understand him” followed by “how much can other family members understand him” followed by “how much can strangers understand him.” (maybe even give percentages–can you/they understand him 25%, 50%, 75%, 100%?).
      That will help guide the parents to realize he’s not doing what he is supposed to.
      Also, talk to them about how he is doing academically and the extent of how his communication delays negatively impact how he is learning to be a student. Once he enters kinder, wow!, he’s gonna have troubles!!
      Early intervention is key!!

      I really hope that helps. Good luck to you (and your student!)