Parent Information, The Montessori Method

Language Development

In this blog post you will learn the stages of development for language comprehension and speech from pregnancy to 6 years old; I share some ways to help your child learn and use language by making small changes to every-day interactions; and I reference recent, peer-reviewed studies to answer the main questions I hear from parents:
1. When to children learn to talk?
2. Will having more than one language at home cause speech delays? 
3. My child isn’t talking yet. Should I be worried?
4. How can I teach my child a new language?
5. What is the best way to support language learning in general?
6. Should I try baby sign language?

#1 When do children learn to talk?

ages & stages

  • Research has shown that language learning starts in the womb and could start as early as the 4th month of pregnancy, from the time Baby is able to hear. {1,2}
  • As seen in the guides below, much of language-learning occurs during the pre-linguistic stage from pregnancy to the time child speaks their first, intentional word. 
  • In general, the child says their first word around the age of 1. By the age of 3 the child is able to speak in short sentences. 
  • Some babies may start speaking earlier, and some toddlers may start later. Every child has their own, perfect timing.
  • In the 2nd year of life there is an explosion of language during which the child learns approximately 7-10 new words per day, or 1 new word every 2 waking hours!

For a complete guide of speech development, you can open and print our new language development chart:
0-1 year | 1-6 years | complete 0-6 guide

#2 Will having more than one language at home cause speech delay? 

This is a myth!

  • The saying that teaching a child multiple languages will cause delayed speech is a myth! 
  • In fact, in the first three years of life children can learn multiple languages at the same speed as a child who is only learning one. 
  • There is no limit to the number of languages a child can learn in the first 6 years of life. See #4 How to teach my child a new language below.
  • Having two or more native languages has long been proven to be linked to higher executive function and cognitive abilities. Specifically, multilingualism is linked to longer attention-span, higher task-switching ability, and protection against cognitive decline in old age. {recent peer-reviewed studies: 7, 8}
  • The connection between multiple languages and speech delays may be relevant in combination with other factors such as family history, medical conditions, low parent education, and lack of stimulation. If you are interested in this topic, here are two recent case studies on the risk factors of speech delays. {3, 4}

#3 My child isn’t talking yet. Should I be worried?

  • In the first year of life, the development of language involves mostly learning language comprehension, which is neurological. The development of speech foremost depends on motor ability, which is still developing from 0-2 years old. To produce speech, the child must first have the motor skills to form sounds. Secondly the child requires the neurodevelopment to absorb words and concepts through visual/auditory/sensory information, comprehend and process that information, formulate language in the brain, and ultimately express it. Each of these processes occur in a different area of the brain. {5}
  • I share this with you to show that a child’s first word is a huge task which the child has been working on for nearly their entire life up to that moment.
  • An 18 month-old child may be able to say 1-15 words, but also comprehends 70-100 words as well as grammar, intonation, and “yes”/“no”. 

speech delays

  • If your child is not yet speaking in 3- word sentences by the age of 3, this could a sign of a speech delay. 
  • If your child is over 3 and you are concerned about a speech delay, seek advice from your child’s paediatrician and/or a speech pathologist.
  • If your child is under 3 years old, but you are worried about speech delays, you can have your child’s hearing checked, monitor other developmental milestones, learn ways to support early childhood language development, and speak with your child’s pediatrician. 
  • Many babies and toddlers start speaking later. This is not by itself a sign that something is wrong. However, speech delays are not something to be afraid of. For more information on what a speech delay can indicate and what to expect if your child has a speech delay, here is a helpful parent guide. {6}

#4 How can I teach my child a new language?

one-person-one language

  • In Montessori we aim to support the child’s amazing ability to absorb and learn to perfection multiple language without direct instruction. The rule we follow is one-face-one-language, meaning that each person in the child’s life speaks only one language directly to the child. 
  • In early childhood language is learned through absorption by contact with another person who speaks directly to the learner. 
  • The adult does not need to speak their own native language, but a language they are comfortable speaking and able to speak consistently to the child. Choose the language you want your child to learn from you and use that when you are together. 
  • In groups or family settings where the language is different, you can speak the group language, which is the culturally considerate thing to do. But when you are speaking only to your child, you would switch back to the language you share together.
  • In this way, the child is able to clearly organise and learn the language completely and they are also able to organise and separate languages associated with different people. For example, the child knows that their mother and grandmother call this fruit an apple, and their friends and teacher call this fruit der Apfel.

changing the language you speak to your child

  • If a parent would like to change the primary language they speak with the child, it is possible to switch as long as they are consistent from then on. For example, if a parent has multiple native languages themselves and decides later that they would like to introduce a different language from their partner, it’s not too late!
  • It is best to make this switch as early as possible. 
  • What to expect: 
    > Switching during the pre-linguistic stage, or during the first year of life, is a smooth transition in my experience and in my observations. 
    > If you make the switch after the first year, or during the linguistic stage, it may take several days to a week for both parent and child to adjust. 
    > If your child is over 2 years old and is already in their explosion of language, this change will be more challenging, but it is still possible. 
    > After 6 years old, changing the primary language you speak with your child is not likely to be successful. If you know of a situation when this was possible for a family, please email me! I would love to know more.  
  • To help your child learn this new language, see #5 What is the best way to help my child learn language? below.

See the language development guide for reference of your child’s stage of language-learning.

establish a personal connection to the target language

If you want to teach your child a language which is different from your primary language with them, here are some ideas:

  • Find a class in your area which is taught in the target language: Montessori in English, Ballet in Spanish, Art in French, etc. to normalise the language and allow the child to absorb it naturally in a fun environment. 
  • As often as possible speak to friends, caregivers, other parents, etc. in the target language while the child is present in order to make the target language a normal part of the environment. 
  • Find a babysitter or playgroup leader who speaks the target language, so your child can create a personal connection to the adult speaking the language to them. 
  • Read books in the target language to your little one. 
  • You can read to your child in any language, regardless of what language you usually speak together. The book should be read only in the language it is written in. In this situation, the rule is one-book-one-language.
  • Listen to songs in the target language and have fun singing and dancing together in that language.

#5 What is the best way to support language learning in general?

For specific recommendations for your child’s current stage of development, see the Language Development Guide. Below you will find general recommendations for giving language to toddlers in daily life, in the way you play with your child, and while you are out and about together. 

daily life

  • Use body language when you speak to the child. Get down on their level, make eye contact, and show them what you are talking about. Pause for comprehension, and repeat if needed.
    For example: if you want to ask if they are hungry, bring the snack to them. Get down on their level, make eye contact and ask, “Are you hungry?” Showing them the food. Pause for an answer. “Let’s go eat at the table,” and point to the table.
  • Speak in complete sentences with descriptive vocabulary. For example:
    Say “Have you hurt yourself?” Not “Baby ow?”
  • Instead of “yay” or “uh oh” describe what your baby has done/observed. “You put the ball in the basket!” “Your plate fell on the ground.”
  • Offer choices, even if your child is not speaking yet. They then have the option to speak or point.
    “Do you want milk or water?” “Do you want to take a bath or read a book first?”
  • Add on to the words your child uses, including them in full sentences or offering more information. If your child says, “Outside wet.” You can reply, “Yes, it is wet outside. It’s raining. Can you see the puddles?”

the way you play

  • Use complete and correct names for all items, animals, furniture…
    For example, say “hippopotamus” – not hippo. Say “car” – not beep beep. Say “cylinder” – not circle. Say “cat” – not meow meow.
  • Instead of questions like “What color is this?/What is this animal?” Ask the child to give you the red block or put the giraffe on the table. By responding choosing the item you asked for, you will know if they know the names of the colors, animals, etc. 
  • When reading books or looking at photos, isolate nouns to teach vocabulary. Instead of “this is a squirrel”, just say SQUIRREL and repeat the word one or two times. 

out and about

  • When you go out to do things with your child, to the park, to the zoo, to a cafe, the child is absorbing a lot of language by just watching and listening. You can connect them to these places and aid their learning by discussing their observations.
  • It is not enough just to take the child to interesting places. You have to make the connection so they can learn how to understand and categorise what they see.
  • On a walk, let your child roam free and notice what draws their attention. If they want to stare at a leaf on the ground for five minutes – great! Let’s talk about the leaf. What tree could it have fallen from? Is it whole or broken? What does the leaf tell us about the season?.…
  • Allow your child to be present for and included in conversations between adults.

#6 Baby Sign Language

  • Baby sign language is a great tool for non-verbal babies and toddlers. It also helps verbal toddlers express themselves when they are across the room from you or in situations when they feel shy and prefer not to speak. 
  • You can start from birth or any time after that to use signs for different things. You can use as few or as many as you want.
  • Any sign you use will work, as long as you are consistent with how you use it. 
  • Here is a free, online dictionary which will shows you the signs in many different countries. 
  • As much as possible, use real signs from your country’s dialect of sign language. Let the sign language you use with your little one be a real language you are adding to their life!
  • If your child has their own way of making a sign you use, accept and respond to it, so they know you understand. Continue making the sign in the same way that you taught it to them. This is the way they understand it already and the way they are trying to imitate.

my experience with baby sign language: 

When our daughter was born we started using basic signs: milk, diaper change, I love you… But when our baby was eight months old she started repeating the signs. We were so amazed that we incorporated more and more into our language. She still uses them today in combination with spoken words and we are so happy that she has the ability to express herself when she needs something. 

helpful signs

You can look up signs in different countries with a video dictionary such as

PAINYou can ask the child if they are feeling pain and they can tell you if they have hurt themselves. This is such a relief when baby cannot yet explain to the parent verbally how they feel.Point your index fingers together and twist your writs in opposite directions.
CHANGE (DIAPER)Make two fists and put them together at the palm. Twist your wrists in opposite directions.
EAT/FOODYour child can tell you when they are hungry and you can tell them when it’s time to eat.Bring your fingers and thumb together on your right hand, moving your hand towards and away from your mouth in a short motion.
SLEEPYour child can tell you when they are tired and you can ask them if they want to sleep or relax. Place an open hand on your cheek.
BUMPYour child can tell you if they have fallen down.Make two fists and bump them together at the thumbs.
MILKMake two fists, opening and closing your hands.
WATERPut your first 3 fingers to your chin, holding your thumb and pinkie together, palm facing to the side.
FINISHED/ALL DONEWith two open hands in front of your chest, face them away from you, then turn them towards you.
WORKYour child can tell others that they are busy or that their toy is not available.Make two fists and cross your forearms over one another.
WASH HANDSMove your hands together as if you are washing them.


  1. Language experienced in utero affects vowel perception after birth: a two-country study, USA National Library of Medicine,
  2. Fetal rhythm-based language discrimination: a biomagnetometry study, NeuroReport Health Journal,
  3. An Assessment of Risk Factors of Delayed Speech and Language in Children: A Cross-Sectional Study, USA National Library of Medicine,
  4. Speech and language delay in children: Prevalence and risk factors, USA National Library of Medicine,
  5. What brain regions control our language? And how do we know this? The Conversation Academic Journal,,%20temporal,left%20side%20of%20your%20brain
  6. Language Delays in Toddlers: Information for Parents, Healthy Children Medical Blog by the American Academy of Pediatrics, 
  7. Bilingualism and the Development of Executive Function: The Role of Attention, USA National Library of Medicine,
  8. Positive Cognitive Effects of Bilingualism and Multilingualism on Cerebral Function: a Review, Psychiatric Quarterly Journal,

Thank you for reading!

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