Is there a word or short phrase for the distinctive way(s) that young children speak English? Native speakers of English between the ages of 3 and 7 tend to have limited vocabularies. When talking to such children, adults sometimes make a point of using the child's vocabulary and grammar. This helps the adult be sure that the child understands what the adult is saying.

"Baby talk" is a short phrase for the hard-to-parse vocalizations of infants and toddlers, and for the inarticulate pseudo-words that many adults use when talking to infants and toddlers. Thus, "baby-talk" does not describe the (actual English) speech of 3 to 7 year-olds.

  • Some examples of such speech are in "How to tell a child that he did something wrong".
    – Jasper
    Nov 11, 2015 at 23:14
  • 2
    Very interesting question. My first though was "baby talk," but you're right, that better descrbies the half-words that very young children use. I would simply say "Use very simply English with 3 to 7-year-olds, as their vocabulary isn't very big." If there is a specific word, it likely isn't very common.
    – Alex K
    Nov 12, 2015 at 0:34
  • There is a big difference in language facility between the normal three year old and the normal seven year old. By about five, a kid has mastered most of his native language, although yes his vocabulary will not be as large as Shakespeare's. You may have to point to a thing to a three year old but not to a seven year old. Apr 15, 2016 at 18:31

2 Answers 2


Child-directed speech is what you're looking for when a parent (or an older child) is taking to an infant and young child. That is the more formal term. Parentese or mothereese are more informal.

But if you're looking for a word for how they speak in that age-range, child language (covering the vocabulary, semantics, syntax, etc) and child speech (covering the vocalization of that language) are the more formal terms. Informally, people would know what you mean by child-talk.


In English, the closest we have is to compare to expectations with peers at various grades in school. For example

He had some developmental delays and still speaks at a first-grade level.

In America, children typically begin kindergarten at five years of age, so first graders are six or seven years old. Speaking-age children younger than five are said to perform at preschool level.

We also gauge reading levels in this relative fashion that can go up or down, as in

She is a bright child. Although still in elementary school, she is already reading at high school level.

As an aside to your question but relevant to the example above, the rough groupings of grade levels contain some cultural ambiguity. Although some American regions still group grade levels into the following, they are now considered a bit dated or old fashioned.

  • elementary or primary school (first grade through sixth grade)
  • junior high school (seventh through ninth)
  • high school (tenth through twelfth)

My parents still refer to levels in these terms—except for my mother sometimes because she is a schoolteacher who went through one way but works in the other. Nowadays, the common groupings are

  • elementary school (first through fifth grades)
  • middle school (sixth through eighth)
  • high school (ninth through twelfth)

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