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What It Takes to Talk

by on 09/06/2021 2200

By Petrina Cheong (Speech-Language Pathologist at Oasis Place)

One of the defining milestones of a child’s development is starting to talk. It is truly a momentous occasion when the first ‘Mama’ or ‘Papa’ is uttered and most parents can remember this moment.

There are many skills that need to be learned first for a child to speak. These preverbal skills, (mostly hidden to the untrained eye), are the building blocks to language. “Preverbal” translates to before language, and this article will briefly discuss the preverbal skills that serve as a prerequisite to language, both receptive and expressive.

Talking Readiness (Preverbal Skills)

From birth, babies are already developing preverbal skills in these 3 areas:

Social Skills, Receptive Language and Expressive Language. [1]

1. Social Skills are the ability to take turns is an important prerequisite for learning to hold conversations. Besides that, joint attention is useful to develop a child’s ability to focus on the person and an object which increases their ability to attend in social interactions. Whether a baby responds to people affects their language acquisition. Infants who respond to people learn to engage with others, develop early vocabulary and understand cause and effect. Some babies cry when they want attention from their parents, and that is a good example of initiation, another important preverbal skill. This skill is important as children that initiate understand the need to communicate.


2. Receptive Language is basically responding to the environment and is a vital skill to develop. A child who is not alert to their linguistic environment will have difficulty acquiring language as they have lesser opportunities to observe and learn from their various life experiences. Fulfilling your child’s sensory abilities enables them to understand and process the sensory world around them and encourages the development of a longer attention span which is another essential preverbal skill. A longer attention span encourages greater opportunities for learning and listening to language.

Playing with a variety of toys helps the child develop various cognitive skills like planning, trying new things and remembering. These cognitive skills form the foundation for children to learn what words mean and communicate with others. Before a child uses speech, he must first understand what the word means. A good indicator of your child’s understanding is whether he has the ability to follow instructions like “put on your shoes” or “pick up your toys” and understand everyday words.


3. Expressive Language is an indicator of the emergence of speech and whether a child is able to vocalise purposefully. While babies often make noise out of reflex, it is when they start vocalising with intent that their ability to talk develops. Imitating adult speech provides children with templates of sentences they can use and allows them to learn the patterns of everyday speech. Using gestures to communicate also demonstrates a child’s ability to connect nonverbal communication with meaning.

It is not uncommon to underestimate the complexities of the speech development process. As described above, there are many prerequisite skills that make up the building blocks of language and communication. For more information on your child’s speech, consult a professional speech therapist. You may also refer to this website for more information regarding essential preverbal skills.


Oasis Place, located in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, is Malaysia’s largest multidisciplinary intervention centre, embracing a client-centered approach through transdisciplinary intervention. We offer all our assessment and therapy services onsite at our centre, offsite at schools, and online through OPConnect. At Oasis Place, helping people learn and grow is at the heart of everything we do. We work with all learning different individuals - from Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Dyslexia and Dyscalculia to Down Syndrome. Our core services are Psychology, Speech & Language Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Music Therapy, Continuous Education and Nutrition.  

For more information on our services, please visit our website at , Facebook at OasisPlaceMalaysia, Instagram and Twitter @OasisPlaceMY