When Do Babies Start Talking: Milestones And Tips
When do babies start talking? It’s a process, and it depends on your child’s unique development.
Simply put, before learning to speak a language, babies experiment with sound by babbling and cooing. After that, they learn to say words like “mama” and “dada,” start putting together two or three-word sentences, and, before you know it, they’re having a whole conversation with you.
But, as we mentioned above, it’s all a process. In this article, you’ll learn what stages to expect and what you can do to encourage your child’s speech development.
Table Of Contents
- When Do Babies Start Talking?
- Baby Speech Developmental Milestones
- When Do Babies Start Talking: 20 Tips
- Common First Words
- A Note About Pronunciation
- When To See The Doctor
When Do Babies Start Talking?
When your child begins to "speak" by cooing or babbling, they are demonstrating their developing language skills. Sure, you might not have any idea what they're saying right now, but this talk will ultimately give way to actual words.
There's also a social aspect to all this baby babble. Long before your child says a word, they observe you, your partner, and everyone around them as they learn the norms of language.
From the moment they’re born, babies watch how we react to sounds. They learn languages and copy how others interact with them vocally as a result of this.
As each child develops at their own pace, there's no set age for when babies start talking. Some will begin speaking earlier than others, while some might need a little more time to get the hang of it.
There are, however, general expectations of a child's speech development according to age. Let’s take a look.
Baby Speech Developmental Milestones
2-3 Months Old
At two to three months, your baby listens to your voice, studies your face as you speak, and shifts their attention to other voices, sounds, and music in the house. Many babies also like the voices and music they heard when in the womb.
Babies begin "cooing" at about this age, too, which is a pleasant, mild, repeating sing-song vocalization.
4-6 Months Old
At this stage, your infant may recognize their name (usually from about four and a half months) but only as an essential word, such as "Hello!" or "Bye-Bye!" They won't comprehend that their name refers to them until they are around six months old, at the earliest.
6-7 Months Old
Your baby's babbles will become more speech-like once they've practiced using their lips and tongue to produce sounds, which should happen around six to seven months.
Although it may appear that your child is making random noises, if you pay close attention, you will notice shifts in tone and intonation when they speak.
For example, their voice might rise after a string of babbling, as if they're asking a question, or they might murmur beneath their breath.
You'll also note that, after stating what's on their mind, your baby may stop as if waiting for a response. This is because babies learn that a conversation is a two-way exchange rather than a monologue.
9 Months Old
Babies may understand a few basic words at nine months, such as "no" and "bye-bye." They may also start to use a broader range of consonant sounds and voice tones.
12-18 Months Old
By the end of a year, most babies can pronounce a few simple words like "mama" and "dada" and understand what they're saying. Simple, one-step requests, such as "Please, put that down," are responded to — or at least understood, if not obeyed.
18 Months Old
At this age, babies can utter a few rudimentary phrases and point to the people, objects, and body parts you mention.
They can also repeat words or noises they hear you say, such as a sentence's last word. However, they frequently omit word ends or beginnings. For example, they might say "noo- noo's" for "noodles or "daw" for "dog."
2 Years Old
By the age of two, babies can string together a few syllables into two- to four-word phrases, like "Mommy bye-bye" or "Me milk." In addition, they're learning that words can refer to more than just objects, such as "cup"; they can also refer to abstract concepts, such as "mine."
3 Years Old
By the age of three, your child's vocabulary has grown significantly, and make-believe play has aided in the understanding of symbolic and abstract words, such as "now," feelings, such as "sad," and spatial notions, such as "in."
4-5 Years Old
Your child should be able to hold discussions with adults, use adjectives in full sentences, perform knock-knock jokes, and ask questions with good intonation by this age. Most children have about a 2,500-word expressive vocabulary by the time they're six.
At this age, your toddler understands around 14,000 words. They're also able to communicate complex emotions, such as worries and dreams, express gratitude, and use words to provoke responses from others.
Now that you understand the different speech milestones your child will experience, let’s discuss how you can help them along this journey.
When Do Babies Start Talking: 20 Tips
1) Focus On Names, Not Pronouns
It can take a while for your child to understand pronouns and who they should refer to as he or she. So, instead of focusing on pronouns, try to name the person you're talking about whenever you can.
For example, "This is mommy's pen" or "Here is Timothy's bicycle" are both simpler for babies to grasp than saying, "This is my pen" or "Here is your bicycle."
2) Sing Songs That Rhyme
Nursery rhymes and songs teach your baby important language abilities through simple rhymes and repetitions. There's a reason why reading books to babies and singing songs to them is a time-honored tradition.
3) Read Aloud
Young children who have a lot of joyful and calming experiences when someone reads aloud to them grow up to be lifelong readers.
In addition to reading to your baby, remember to talk to them about the everyday things they see or experience.
For example, as you cook for your baby and feed them, talk to them about what you're doing. You can say things like, "I'm steaming some carrots for you. I know you like carrots." This helps your baby connect your speech to these things and experiences.
4) Encourage Imitation
Hearing their parents communicate is something that babies appreciate. When parents interact with their children, it aids in their speech development.
The more you communicate with them in "baby talk," using short, simple but proper terms, like "dog" when they say "daw," the more they will want to communicate.
5) Enunciate Words
A baby does not learn how to make a "gra" sound with their tongue and back of their mouth. These communication abilities need to be acquired over time.
Slowly saying and articulating the many sounds that make up specific phrases, such as "grrrr-aanndd-mmaaa" for "grandma," will help you teach your infant to speak.
6) Practice Repetition
Saying things twice, singing the same songs over and over, pointing out the same flower pot every time you pass it on the street, etc. — all that repetition, as boring as it may seem to you, is incredibly interesting to your child.
Repetition is necessary and important because it helps reinforce their growing understanding of how a particular sound attaches to a specific thing — in other words, what individual words really mean.
7) Respond To Their Sounds
Even if your little one is still in the cooing or babbling stage, respond to the sounds they make as if those sounds were actual words.
So, for example, when your baby coos, say, “Are you happy? Are you hungry? Are you sleepy?”
As you do this, keep in mind that, at this stage, the point of it all isn’t to actually get a response from them or to even learn if they are happy, hungry, or sleepy.
The point is to train them to understand that their vocalizations can mean something — that those sounds are, indeed, a tool they can use to communicate with others.
From the moment your little one is born, use your facial expressions — especially your smile — to communicate with them. Then, when your baby smiles at you, mirror their actions and smile back.
The back-and-forth interaction is a very basic form of communication that can help train your baby to pick up on visual cues and respond in kind.
This basic activity can contribute to the overall brain development that eventually evolves into different forms of communication and lays the groundwork for speech production.
9) Narrate Your Actions
A great way to help your baby understand what’s going on around them — and to train them to associate words with actions — is to narrate everything you do as you do it.
So, for example, if you’re changing your little one’s diaper, you might say, “Mommy is changing your diaper. Mommy is throwing away your dirty diaper. Mommy is putting on a clean diaper. Mommy is picking you up and hugging you.”
Such narration — sometimes called parallel talk — can help strengthen the parts of your baby’s brain that control vocabulary, understanding, and communication.
Play is one of the most effective forms of learning for children of all ages. And that play doesn’t even have to be focused on communication for it to be effective.
Many parents think that they have to engage their baby in actual “training” activities such as spelling, object identification, or pattern recognition.
Formal training like that isn’t always necessary for speech development. Really, any type of play can go a long way toward helping your baby’s brain develop the tools it needs to communicate when the time is right.
You can, of course, help things along by engaging in some of the other activities on this list while playing with your baby.
For example, while your little one is pushing blocks around on the floor, narrate their and your actions and repeat simple words to help build their communication “muscles.”
11) Expand On What They Say
Once your baby starts using simple words, take the opportunity to expand on the things they say with new words and concepts.
For example, if your child points to the family pet and says “dog,” keep the conversation going by responding with, “Yes, that’s our dog. His name is Blue. Blue is a big dog. His fur is black and he loves to run. Oh, did you hear the dog bark?”
Doing so can help your little one build on what they already know and increase their ability to put new vocabulary into use.
12) Limit Screen Time
Engaging your baby face-to-face is still one of the best ways to help them develop their speech and language abilities.
While tablets, smartphones, and TV can serve as a supplement for speech training, do your best to allow for plenty of one-on-one personal time when you can interact with them and they can interact with you.
Learning to talk and communicate involves a variety of physical stimuli — including sight, sound, and touch — that your little one might not be able to get from a digital device.
13) Incorporate Toys With Cause And Effect
Understanding cause and effect is a big part of your child’s language growth.
Before they can really communicate, they need to know that the sounds that come out of their mouth (or your mouth) can make something else happen.
To help them grasp this concept, incorporate toys that contain a cause-and-effect element. Keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be anything complicated — even just turning a crank and causing a stuffed animal to pop out of a hole is enough to connect the two events.
14) Talk As Much As Possible
A simple way to help your baby learn more words is simply to talk as much as possible.
We’ve already touched on narrating your and their actions — which is especially important for connecting words with physical objects — but simply talking to your baby can go a long way towards reinforcing the communication process.
Talk about your day while they nurse. Talk to them while you walk to the market. Tell them about something funny your dog or cat did the other day.
It really doesn’t matter what you talk about, as long as they hear you saying words.
15) Give Your Little One Time To Respond
Once your little one is able to respond to what you say (with coos, babbles, or actual words), give them time to do so.
At that stage, talking is new to them and they may need time to:
- Process what you are saying
- Come up with the right response
- Get their mouth to move correctly to produce that response
When you talk to your baby, build in a pause to see if they can generate a verbal response. You can also do this at earlier stages of development to see if your little one can produce a non-verbal response such as a gesture or appropriate eye movement.
16) Speak Slowly When Interacting Directly
When you’re talking about your day or narrating a series of actions, you can talk at a normal rate. But, when interacting directly with your baby, speak slowly and clearly so they have time to process what you’re saying.
For your little one, learning to talk is a complicated mental and physical activity. It’s going to take time for them to get their body and brain to work together to produce speech.
It’s very much like you learning how to do the Waltz for the very first time. If your teacher says, “Move your right foot back, your left foot to the side, and then bring your right foot to your left foot,” are you going to be able to get your body to obey exactly as they instructed?
It’s going to take a bit of practice. And, it will help if your teacher goes slowly, one step at a time, so your brain has time to process the words and translate them into physical movement.
The same is true when your baby is learning how to talk.
17) Build On Big Words
Feel free to use complicated words when you talk to your baby. If you choose to do so, take the time to build on those big words to help your little one understand.
For example, if you say, “We’re going to take Blue to the veterinarian this morning. A veterinarian is a doctor who knows all about dogs and cats.”
It may be a while before they can actually use the big words themselves, but they may be able to connect the concepts much sooner.
18) Talk About Their Interests
If your child loves to play with blocks, loves to go for a walk outside, and loves to spend time with grandma, talk about those interests as much as possible.
Their brain is already inclined to focus on those activities, so using words that apply to those situations can help build on their enjoyment.
19) Talk About Shared Experiences
Another good way to help your little one learn to speak (and to build on their vocabulary once they do), is to talk about shared experiences.
Much like talking about their interests, talking about shared experiences helps them remember and make connections that can lead to more advanced communication.
20) Be Patient
Above all, be patient with your baby and yourself. Each child will learn to talk at their own unique pace. For some, it might be sooner. For others, it might be later.
The best thing you can do is allow them to progress at their own speed — and give them lots of love as they do!
Common First Words
Think your little one might say their first word any day now? Listen closely for words that start with the b, d, or m sound.
Those three sounds are typically easier for young learners to say because they require less fine motor control of the lips and tongue.
As a result, words like ma, da, mama, and dada (or even “do” for dog) are some of the most common first words your baby will try.
That doesn’t mean every child will say mama or dada as their first word. Some may prefer to start with another word. And that’s OK.
A Note About Pronunciation
In many cases, your baby’s first word may be little more than a simple, one-syllable sound directed at a specific object. Rest assured; that’s normal!
When your baby does start talking, don’t be overly concerned about pronunciation. They may choose to say “mi” for milk, “dat” for that, or the previously mentioned “do” for dog.
However they decide to vocalize, just go with it and encourage them to say more. Eventually, as they gain more control over their lips and tongue, they’ll be able to pronounce their words more accurately.
When To See The Doctor
It's essential to see your physician if you detect any of the following symptoms in your child:
- At 4 to 7 months, there is no babbling.
- By twelve months, he or she has only made a few sounds or movements.
- By 12 to 15 months, they are not pronouncing simple words like "ma-ma" or "da-da."
- By 18 months, he or she hasn't grasped simple phrases like "no" or "stop."
- By 24 months, they are not using word combinations like “Baby drink” or “Mamma go.”
These can occasionally indicate that something is wrong. Here are some of the things your pediatrician will be looking for:
Hearing Loss Or Impairments
Hearing loss or impairments might start at birth or develop later in childhood or toddlerhood. Tell your pediatrician if you have a family history of hearing loss.
Children with hearing difficulties may find it challenging to learn to talk. Your doctor may be able to manage mild hearing loss caused by, for example, fluid build-up in the inner ear or refer you to an ENT (ear, nose, and throat specialist).
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, around one out of every five children has language difficulties (AAP). This delay can sometimes be modest and can be resolved with a little more attention from a parent or caregiver.
Working with a speech and language therapist may be beneficial in other circumstances.
Autism Spectrum Disorder
Autism is a spectrum condition (sometimes known as autism spectrum disorder or ASD) that can cause social and language impairments.
Call your pediatrician if your child does not reply to his name by nine months or does not make eye contact when you speak to him. Generally, the sooner you identify a speech delay, the sooner you can remedy it.
Let The Talking Begin!
It’s challenging to answer the question, “When do babies start talking?” because language develops in stages.
Remember to focus on names, sing songs that rhyme, and read aloud to them. In addition, encourage imitation, enunciate your words, and repeat, repeat, repeat.
Whether you’re curious about language development or other milestones, Newton Baby has you covered. Check out our blog for guides on everything from sleep schedules to crib safety and why your baby’s mattress material matters.
Before you know it, you’ll be gearing up for the next big stage of your little one’s life!