Tuesday, April 01, 2014

The Absorbent Mind, Chapter 10: Some Thoughts on Language

“All children pass through a period in which they can only pronounce syllables; then they pronounce whole words, and finally, they use to perfection all the rules of syntax and grammar.” — Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind, p. 111.

namc montessori studying absorbent mind thoughts on language laughing baby

Last summer, my teenage son and I were visiting my sister and her family. One morning, my son found himself tending my 5-month-old nephew while the adults were getting ready. The baby, not used to his cousin, began to cry. I hurried downstairs only to hear my son say in exasperation, “I don’t know what you want. If only you could use your words!”

We have all been there. Trying to decipher baby and toddler speech can be frustrating. Mono-syllables are easily misunderstood and lost in translation, leaving both child and adult bewildered and confused. Language, says Montessori, “is an instrument of collective thought.” (Montessori, p. 108) Simply thinking a thing is not enough; there must be communication and mutual comprehension.

Studying the Works of Montessori - The Absorbent Mind, Chapter 10: Some Thoughts on Language

Children around the world develop language skills at approximately the same time. Montessori stressed that language develops naturally and spontaneously; it is not taught. “…The mother does not teach her child language. It develops naturally, like a spontaneous creation.” (Montessori, p. 111) No matter the complexity or simplicity of their maternal tongue, children arrive at the same developmental milestones at roughly the same age.

Speech Development

By 6 months:
  • Makes different cries for different needs – hunger, fatigue, pain
  • Smiles and laughs in response to others
  • Imitates coughs or other sounds – ah, eh, buh

By 9 months:
  • Gets what he/she wants through sounds and gestures, e.g., reaching to be picked up
  • Babbles and repeats sounds

By 12 months:
  • Uses three or more words
  • Gets attention using sounds, gestures, pointing while looking at your eyes
  • Combines lots of sounds as though talking

By 18 months:
  • Responds with words or gestures to simple questions – “Where’s teddy?”, “What is that?”
  • Makes at least four different consonant sounds – b, n, d, g, w, h

By 24 months:
  • Uses 100 or more words
  • Uses at least two pronouns – “you,” “me,” “mine”
  • Consistently combines two or more words in short phrases – “daddy hat,” “truck go down”
  • People can understand his/her words 50 to 60 per cent of the time

By 30 months:
  • Uses more than 350 words

Learning to speak occurs at the unconscious level. We cannot see the inner workings and processes, nor can we hurry it along. We must, as Montessori says, “be willing to wait…This is a treasure prepared in the unconscious, which is then handed over to consciousness, and the child, in full possession of his new power, talks and talks without cessation.” (Montessori, p. 114)

namc montessori studying absorbent mind thoughts on language reading to baby

Since the child is absorbing language, which includes vocabulary, syntax, and meaning, we must speak properly to the child. The first six years of life is when he analyzes and synthesizes the patterns of speech around him. We must model proper speech for by doing so, we are helping the child unlock the mysteries of language. While the child is “the creator of speech” (Montessori, p. 115), his success at this task is determined by our guidance. To help him develop language fully, we must immerse the child in a language-rich environment. His future depends on it.

Work Cited
Montessori, Maria. The Absorbent Mind. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Press, 1964.
As much as possible, NAMC’s web blog reflects the Montessori curriculum as provided in its teacher training programs. We realize and respect that Montessori schools are unique and may vary their schedules and offerings in accordance with the needs of their individual communities. We hope that our readers will find our articles useful and inspiring as a contribution to the global Montessori community.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Tuesday, April 1, 2014.


  1. Well written article that clearly states the "mystery and magic" of language acquisition! I especially enjoyed the Montessori quotations. Thank you!


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