It’s common for parents to wonder about major milestones in their children’s development. At the top of this list are questions regarding when children will learn to talk, since parents are eager to be able to communicate more clearly with their children and hear what they are thinking. As with any major developmental milestone, there is a great variation in when children learn to speak in sentences, but you can expect it to generally be between 18 months to two years old.
While babies can start saying their first words as early as six months old, stringing words into sentences takes more brain development as well as a larger vocabulary. When a child is around one is usually when the move from babbling to using words as communication takes hold– although this can happen earlier or later and still be well within the range of normal development. Of course, sentences tend to start out simple and get more complex as your child becomes more fluent.
Speaking in full sentences begins slowly, with two- or three-word sentences. As any parent of a toddler knows, these are frequently commands, such as “Pick me up!” or “Put me down!” and are often uttered at great volume. This is a normal part of verbal development, and most children will learn to use words like “please” and “thank you” if this behavior is modeled and reinforced on a consistent basis.
Your child will likely learn to talk in sentences before he or she totally understands pronouns, so sentences may sound more like “Johnny hungry” than “I am hungry.” Helping verbs are also often left out, with just the main idea being expressed. He or she will gradually learn to include all the words in a sentence, including the correct pronoun, but for most parents it’s a relief at first just to know what their children are trying to communicate.
If your child is being raised in a bilingual (or even trilingual) home, he or she will still learn to talk in sentences at roughly the same time as a monolingual child, usually in both languages at once. Children who are using baby signs or baby sign language may begin speaking in complete sentences slightly later than their peers, but only because their communication needs are already being met. Baby signs do not cause any permanent delay in speech and often a child using these signs will begin speaking at the same time as his or her peers. In fact, the utilization of sign language can help a child develop a strong sense of self and better emotional regulation skills, because this child avoids the frustration that comes with the inability to communicate.