Stages of Language Acquisition

There are four main stages of normal language acquisition:  The babbling stage, the Holophrastic or one-word stage, the two-word stage and the Telegraphic stage. These stages can be broken down even more into these smaller stages: pre-production, early production, speech emergent, beginning fluency intermediate fluency and advanced fluency. On this page I will be providing a summary of the four major stage of language acquisition.


Within a few weeks of being born the baby begins to recognize it’s mothers’ voice. There are two sub-stages within this period. The first occurs between birth – 8 months. Most of this stage involves the baby relating to its surroundings and only during 5/6 – 8 month period does the baby begin using it’s vocals. As has been previously discussed babies learn by imitation and the babbling stage is just that. During these months the baby hears sounds around them and tries to reproduce them, albeit with limited success. The babies attempts at creating and experimenting with sounds is what we call babbling. When the baby has been babbling for a few months it begins to relate the words or sounds it is making to objects or things. This is the second sub-stage.  From 8 months to 12 months the baby gains more and more control  over not only it’s vocal communication but physical communication as well, for example body language and gesturing.  Eventually when the baby uses both verbal and non-verbal means to communicate, only then does it move on to the next stage of language acquisition.

Holophrastic / One-word stage

The second stage of language acquisition is the holophrastic or one word stage. This stage is characterized by one word sentences. In this stage nouns make up around 50% of the infants vocabulary while verbs and modifiers make up around 30% and questions and negatives make up the rest. This one-word stage contains single word utterances such as “play” for “I want to play now”. Infants use these sentence primarily to obtain things they want or need, but sometimes they aren’t that obvious. For example a baby may cry or say “mama” when it purely wants attention.  The infant is ready to advance to the next stage when it can speak in successive one word sentences.


Two-Word Stage

The two word stage (as you may have guessed) is made of up primarily two word sentences. These sentences contain 1 word for the predicate and 1 word for the subject. For example “Doggie walk” for the sentence “The dog is being walked.”  During this stage we see the appearance of single modifiers e.g. “That dog”, two word questions e.g. “Mummy eat?” and the addition of the suffix –ing onto words to describe something that is currently happening e.g.  “Baby Sleeping.”

Telegraphic Stage

The final stage of language acquisition is the telegraphic stage. This stage is named as it is because it is similar to what is seen in a telegram; containing just enough information for the sentence to make sense. This stage contains many three and four word sentences. Sometime during this stage the child begins to see the links between words and objects and therefore overgeneralization comes in. Some examples of sentences in the telegraphic stage are “Mummy eat carrot”, “What her name?” and “He is playing ball.” During this stage a child’s vocabulary expands from 50 words to up to 13,000 words. At the end of this stage the child starts to incorporate plurals, joining words and attempts to get a grip on tenses.


As a child’s grasp on language grows it may seem to us as though they just learn each part in a random order, but this is not the case. There is a definite order of speech sounds. Children first start speaking vowels, starting with the rounded mouthed sounds like “oo” and “aa”. After the vowels come the consonants, p, b, m, t, d, n, k and g. The consonants are first because they are easier to pronounce then some of the others, for example ‘s’ and ‘z’ require specific tongue place which children cannot do at that age.

As all human beings do, children will improvise something they cannot yet do. For example when children come across a sound they cannot produce they replace it with a sound they can e.g. ‘Thoap” for “Soap” and “Wun” for “Run.” These are just a few example of resourceful children are, even if in our eyes it is just cute.


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