Stages of Language Acquisition


Language acquisition is a process that can happen at any point in human life. However, when we talk about the first language acquisition by a child, we refer to the process or way by which children learn their native language. (Learn about the nativist theory of language acquisition)

Learning a new language can be extremely difficult, but yet you look at little children that are not yet five and they have already mastered most of the grammar of their native language. Children learn their native language without being taught the rules of grammar by their parents or guardians. Also, parents themselves do not consciously know the many rules of grammar. So how do children acquire language?

There are 4 major stages of language acquisition. they are;

  • The Blabbing stage,
  • The Holophrastic Stage,
  • The two-word stages, and
  • The Telegraphic stage.

These stages are capable of being broken down into smaller stages, they include;

  • Pre-production,
  • Early Production,
  • Speech Emergent,
  • Beginning fluency, and
  • Advanced fluency.

Today, we will be looking at the four main stages of language acquisition.


A baby begins to recognize its mother’s voice within a few weeks of being born. Within this period, there are two sub-stages. The first stage occurs between the time of birth to 8 months. In this stage, the baby learns about its surroundings and doesn’t begin to use its vocals until the fifth or sixth month, down to the eighth month. During this time the baby hears sounds around it and tries to imitate them to little success. This attempt at creating and experimenting with sound is what we refer to as blabbing.

After blabbing for a few months, the baby begins to relate the sounds or words it is making to objects or things. This is where the second sub-stage begins. From eight months to 13 months, the baby continues to gain control over not just its vocal communication but also its physical condition. Afterward, the baby begins to use both verbal and non-verbal means to interact with its environment. This is when the baby moves to the next level of language acquisition.

Holophrastic/ One-word stage

The one-word or holophrastic stage is the second stage of language acquisition. In this stage, the child begins to make one-word sentences. In the Holophrastic stage, nouns make up fifty percent of the child’s vocabulary while verbs and modifiers make up about thirty percent. The remaining twenty percent is made up of questions and negatives.

In this stage, children use one-word sentences to obtain the things they need or want. However, most of the time, they are not obvious. For example, a child will cry “mama” when it just wants attention. Once the baby can speak in successive in one-word sentences, then the baby is ready for the next stage.

Two-word Stage

Just as it implies, the two-word stage is made up of primarily two-word sentences. The sentences in this stage contain one word for the predicate and another word for the subject. For instance, “Doggie eat” for the sentence, “The dog is eating.” In this stage, we see the appearance of single modifiers e.g “That book”, two-word questions. For example, ” Daddy sleep?”.

Telegraphic Stage

This stage is the final stage of language acquisition. This stage is called “telegraphic” because it is similar to what is seen in a telegram; having just enough information for the sentence to make sense. In this stage, the child’s sentences contain many three to four words. During this stage, there are certain times the child begins to see the links between the words and objects, and therefore, over-generalization comes in.

Here are some examples of sentences in the telegraphic stage “what his name?”, “Mummy eat apple” and “She is dancing.” In this stage, the child’s vocabulary increases from fifty to over thirteen thousand words. Towards the end of the stage, the child will begin to make attempts to get a grip on tense by incorporating plurals and joining words.

In many ways, a child’s grasp on language seems as though the child just learns each part in a random order, but this is far from true. There is a particular order of speech sounds. Children begin by speaking vowels with the rounded “oo” and “as”. The consonants come after the vowels.  Examples of the consonants include p, b, m, t, d, n, k, and g. These consonants come first because they are easier to pronounce than some of the others e.g ‘s’ and ‘z’. This is because the ‘s’ and ‘z’ require specific tongue placement which children are unable to do at that age.

Like all human beings, children will improvise something they are unable to do. For example, when they come across a sound they find difficult to pronounce, they will replace it with a sound they can produce.

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