What is Language Acquisition?

Language is a very important part of life. Communication between people not only enables us to understand one-another, but aids in developing relationships and allowing us to communicate our problems, suggestions and plans. I'm sure you can all agree that language is a crucial part of everyday life. But how did we learn to speak? How do we know what to say and when to say certain things? Language Acquisition is something that can often be misunderstood, or simplified, or even forgotten. Yet from the word GO, acquiring language and using language is an amazing ability we, as human-beings, have.

Key terms
  • Babbling - The experimentation of sounds by an infant, tending to include recognisable words.
  • Inflections - The modification of words grammatically to form different tenses or number. E.g. cat (singular) + -s (inflection) = cats (plural) E.g. walk (present tense) + -ed (inflection) = walked (past tense)
  • Intonation - The rise and fall of voice when speaking. Enables differentiation between phrases. E.g. questions, exclamations etc, all use different intonation patterns
  • Phonemes - Small segments of sound.
 Linguistic Milestones - General Trends

 Age (Months)

 Linguistic Milestones


  • Recognition and preference of mother's voice (even from inside the womb!)
  • Ability to distinguish phonemes
  • Can distinguish own language from a foreign language


  • Child can recognise own name
  • Child is sensitive to word order


  •  Early babbling is seen
  •  Start to understand first words (e.g. Mummy)


  • Jargoning (when babbling becomes more specified to the child's mother tongue: stress and intonation patterns are recognisable)
  • First words produced


  • Understand around 50 words
  • Produce two-word utterances


  • Multi word utterances produced with basic grammatical features


  • 6,000 word capacity
  • Ability to produce complex sentences has been gained, with full comprehension
Table adapted from Matthew Saxton (2010:17)[1]
Subject literature provides guidelines for the averages age specific language features are acquired - but different authors cite different milestone dates, depending on where they conducted their research. So It's important to note that dates, in terms of specific linguistic milestones, are not concrete and can vary slightly from child to child (see Language Acquisition in Exceptional Circumstances for more information).