Building Blocks of Language

Find out more about all of the skills that come together to help children develop speech, language and communication- The Building Blocks of Language!

The Building Blocks of Effective Communication

Most children develop speech, language and communication in a predictable sequence with each new skill building on skills already learned. Although we can expect these skills to develop within a given age range, children will progress through these stages at their own pace (have a look at the Child Development Timeline for more information). When thinking about your child’s level of communication, it is important to think about the basic skills that are needed to support them to develop. For example, if a child has only recently started using single words, they have a long way to go before their speech sounds will be fully developed no matter what age they are.

Some children with long term speech language and communication impairments may not develop skills at all stages.

Find out more about why each building block is important for successful communication.




Level 1

For language to develop a child must be able to hear well. If you are worried about your child’s hearing e.g. your child does not always respond when spoken to, will often say ‘what?’ or listens to the TV on high volume, ask your Health Visitor or GP for advice.




Children may be able to hear but not listen to what you say. Listening to language involves hearing the words, paying attention to them, thinking about them and then understanding them. You can help your child’s listening skills by keeping the TV/ music off for talking times and make a point of helping your child listen to sounds around them in everyday situations!


Children have to learn to focus their attention on to different things. This usually starts with attending to people, then to objects, then being able to share their attention between people and things they are interested in. Children need to develop their attention skills before they learn to understand words and learn to talk. You can help your baby and young toddler by finding simple shared activities that you both focus on like blowing bubbles- try one more turn each time to help them pay attention for longer!



Looking at people and their faces is a very important part of communication and interaction. Babies are naturally attracted to faces, and have usually learned to give eye-contact by only a few hours old. Looking at faces gives babies and children the chance to learn about other people, as they begin to understand facial expressions, body language and how sounds are made. Looking and watching another person leads to good listening and good conversation skills. Just by looking at people, children can communicate powerful messages without words: for example a child may ask for an object, or draw an adult’s attention to it by looking. People games like tickling, peekaboo help your child develop looking and eye contact.

Level 2

Taking turns is an important part of communication development for young children. When children learn to take turns, they learn the basics of conversations. Turn taking happens between people all the time in everyday life and develops at an early stage. When you take turns cooing to your baby as they vocalise you are beginning a conversation! When children have opportunities to share and practice taking turns, they are learning how to share a conversation.

Babies will often use vocalisations as a way to communicate such as screeching or shouting. Important routines such as bath time or milk time will often be accompanied with lots of noise in anticipation of what’s to come! Talk back to your baby at these times and they will associate the words with the routine!

Babbling is when your child starts to play with sounds that are a bit like the words and the sounds in our language like “babababa”. They are not meaningful words yet but your baby will often repeat the same sounds and will enjoy doing it! Babble is an important skill that emerges in development before pointing and real words. Children typically start babbling before they start pointing. When your baby is babbling, join in and copy their sounds- you are having a conversation!

Level 3

Babies learn very quickly to link activities for example if they cry they will get a cuddle or if they hear the taps going on they know they are having a bath. As babies and toddlers grow, understanding of cause and effect develops for example they will know that when their boots appear they are going out! Your child doesn’t need to understand any words to work out what is happening. You can help by talking about what you are doing which lets your little one hear all the words that go with the daily routines. 

Level 4

Pointing is an important part of early communication that can serve many purposes. When your baby and young toddler points they understand that they can interact with you in the same way that they could if they had words! A point might mean ‘Give me that!’ or ‘Look at that!’ or ‘What is that?’ or even ‘I know who that is!’ It’s up to you to work out which one they mean! Usually the situation helps adults to do this. Help your child by commenting on their point e.g. ‘It’s a bus!’ or ‘Do you want your teddy? Here’s teddy!’.

Use of gestures or actions is another important communication skill that often develops before spoken words for example a baby may open and close their hand repeatedly if there is something that they want or may clap their hands to if they are pleased. Waving “bye bye” is a lovely milestone for all babies and families! Use of gesture to communicate is an important step before words and vocabulary develops. You can help by using gestures to accompany your talk- your baby may be able to communicate effectively with you using gestures before words appear. Use a word and a gesture at the same time to reinforce the meaning such as arms out before you lift them, shaking your head with the word “No”!

Level 5

Your child will start to understand words that are important in their life like ‘Mummy’, ‘Daddy’, ‘cup’ and ‘No!’ and of course, their own name. You can help your little one by making sure that they hear lots of new words in play and in your everyday routines. Research tells us that babies need to hear lots of language before they will use it! And nothing is better than an interested adult to help babies and children learn language so enjoy some talking time with your baby!


Level 6

The first word that your child uses is always a cause for celebration. Of course by the time they use that first word most children already have developed a lot of communication skills like pointing and understanding words.  You can help your child to develop words by making sure that they hear lots of talking. When a toddler is learning to talk, it is tempting for adults to ask ‘What’s that?’ to see what words they can use. Try describing instead e.g. say ‘Look at the ball!'. This way your child hears the words in a natural conversation. Leave lots of pauses and they might join in with their own words!


Level 7

Lots of young toddlers will use familiar phrases like ‘all gone’ before true sentences start. When your child is using about 50 words, they will start to link words together in short phrases that join ideas together like ‘more juice’ ‘Mummy shoe’. You can help them by adding words into their attempts to build vocabulary so if they say ‘Daddy gone!’ you can say ‘Yes, Daddy’s gone in the car’. Take opportunities to let your child hear new words when you are out and about by describing what you see and hear e.g. ‘Oh look at that doggy! It’s a big doggy!’  It’s important to talk about things that your child is interested in, this will keep them listening and joining in!


Level 8

Once your child has started using short phrases, you may find they will very quickly move to having simple conversations every day. Usually simple conversations will be about the ‘here and now’ e.g. what you are doing together now. It can be difficult for children at this stage to talk about the past or future. There will lots of immaturities at this stage for example words missed out or mispronounced. That is all perfectly typical. At this stage lots of opportunities to practise talking and interacting is what’s required. Books, singing rhymes and most importantly, talking whilst you are out and about gives your child a chance to practise this new skill!


Level 9

By the time they are ready for school most children can have complex conversations with you. There will still be immaturities in their speech and sentences but they will be able to ask questions, comment, tell longer stories, talk about things in the past and things in the future and will be able to have conversation with other children as well as adults. Your pre-school child will be using lots of ideas in their talking by now such big/ little, numbers or colours. If your child has immaturities in their talking you can help by letting them hear a good example e.g if they say ‘He felled on the pavement’ you can say ‘He fell on the pavement? I hope he wasn’t hurt?’


Level 10

Speech sound development keeps going until a child is into primary school (link to speech building blocks). Some sounds like ‘r’ and ‘th’ take a while to get established but don’t get in the way of effective communication. Don’t worry about getting your child to correct these sounds but make sure they hear you say it back correctly e.g. if they say ‘wabbit’ you say ‘yes it’s a rabbit’. Remember talking needs practise and all of the other building blocks to be in place!