Every child is individual. Of that we are sure. But according to Clark (First Language Acquisition, 2003), there are certain things that most children learn at the same time as their peers- despite language and cultural differences.
Words are one of these things- studies have shown that many of us learn the same words at approximately the same time. Here we see the point at which 50% of children say a particular word:
12 daddy, mommy
14 dog, hi
15 baby, ball, no,
16 banana, eye, nose, bottle, juice, bird, duck, cookie, woof, moo, ouch, baabaaa, night night, book, balloon, boat
17 cracker, apple, cheese, ear, keys, bath, peekaboo, vroom, up, down
18 grandma, grandpa, sock, hat, truck, boat, thank you, cat
These words fall into a few categories such as :
– people: daddy
– animals: cat
– toys: ball
However, as Clark’s research indicates, this is true for 50% of children. What about the other 50%? Surely 50% doesn’t constitute ‘most’! So looking at this research in a realistic manner, while a lot of children follow the above pattern, there is plenty of room for variation, and this is much more likely, given the amount of variation in a child’s upbringing and exposure to language (I personally can’t see ‘dog’ featuring high in my son’s repertoire, as we don’t own one). In addition this begs the question: what of bilingual children? Will they also be able to speak the same words as above? In both languages?
Most (again that word!!) children’s vocabulary starts exploding between the age of 15 – 18 months, at the point when they are able to say about 50 words, though the reasons for this are still un-researched. Natural linguistic development allows for them to be able to demonstrate a good understanding of language at this age (unless they have been kept away from all communication, à la Jodie Foster in the film Nell), and they will naturally produce more and more as every production they utter is met with smiles and claps from the surrounding listeners.
While I am prepared to accept that many children will have a very similar vocabulary when they start to learn, I have already seen evidence that, as with other areas of development, some children are ‘early starters’ and some take longer to utter that first word. Mama and Dada may remain proud to be at the top of the list, but let’s allow our children some flexibility in where they go from there.