Language and Communication

Whenever you are in contact with another person you are sending them messages of one kind or another. It is impossible not to communicate.  Usually you send both verbal messages and nonverbal messages. Language is an organized system of symbols that people use to communicate with each other. These symbols may be spoken, written or gestured. Many people view communication from a strictly verbal standpoint - that is, using words and sentences to convey thoughts, feelings, needs, and desires. Most of us depend largely upon "talking" or a verbal language system to communicate with others.  However, in addition to our verbal abilities - or sometimes in place of - we utilize many non-verbal techniques or strategies to effectively relay our thoughts to others. Basic types of communication are nonverbal, verbal, and written.

Nonverbal communication includes communication through body movement, facial expression, posture, gestures, tone of voice, sounds, (such as laughing, crying, clearing the throat, etc.), touch, smell or dress. In infancy, non-verbal techniques are our primary means of communicating with others and include such things as eye contact, facial expressions, movement, body postures, etc. These techniques, in combination with early sound making, help us communicate effectively with our caregivers.

As the typical infant matures, non-verbal techniques are assimilated, and the infant gradually becomes more skilled at utilizing a verbal communication system. Throughout life, individuals continue to become more skilled verbally, constantly learning and engaging in complex verbal interactions with others.

In the infant and young child, there are critical periods during which the basis for all future verbal language development occurs. This development generally takes place between the ages of birth and three years; however, many extend somewhat beyond that for maturation of the speech sound (phonological) system.  Please refer to the chart below for an overview of developmental milestones for communication.

(RESOURCE: Handbook of Infant Mental Health, Edited by Charles H. Zeanah, Jr.)

Funding for this program provided by the Department of Health and Human Services