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When Do Babies Start Talking? What to Know & How to Help

by Vannessa Rhoades 28 Nov 2023
When Do Babies Start Talking? What to Know & How to Help


Communication development in babies is an incredibly thrilling journey. Typically, little ones say their first words around the age of 12 to 18 months. That said, it's important to recognize that there are various other significant milestones in speech and language development, both preceding and following that initial word.

It’s natural to wonder, “When do babies start talking?” or perhaps more to the point, “When do babies start talking clearly?” Waiting for them to speak up is tough. Let’s face it, not being able to figure out what’s going on with them emotionally can be one of the most anxiety-inducing aspects of looking after infants. Many parents wonder why it’s taking so long or worry that their little one may have a developmental delay. Let's take a closer look at what you can anticipate in terms of your baby's language development and explore steps you can take if any concerns arise.

Early Language Development Milestones

From the moment your baby enters the world, they're already communicating with you (albeit in ways that might not immediately register). Initially, crying is their primary means of expression, and it's undeniably effective. Over time, most parents become adept at deciphering the meaning behind their baby's cries and learn to address those needs before the tears even begin. This interaction between parent and child serves as the foundation for teaching your baby how to communicate and connect with you.

Beyond crying, there are other methods your baby uses to communicate during their first few months of life, all of which lay the groundwork for language development. Let's explore these early communication milestones in more detail.

  • At two months, your baby will exhibit a growing interest in your voice, turning their head in your direction when you speak. You'll also notice them making cooing and gurgling sounds.
  • By the time they reach four months, your baby will advance to babbling, potentially imitating some of the sounds and rhythms they hear from you. They'll engage in turn-taking, responding to your speech with their vocalizations.
  • As they approach six months, you'll experience more interactive communication with your baby. They might respond to your inquiries and requests with specific sounds, and they'll begin recognizing and reacting to their own name. Their babbling will become more refined, featuring increased use of "m" and "b" sounds, and they may add squeals and "raspberries" to their repertoire.
  • By the age of nine months, your baby will demonstrate heightened responsiveness. They'll acknowledge you when you call their name and produce a variety of "mamama" and "bababa" sounds. Additionally, they'll employ gestures like raising their arms to signal their desire to be lifted up.

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Typical Early Words for Babies

Most infants will utter their first word by their first birthday, although there can be variations in the timing of this milestone. Around this period, you'll also see an improvement in your baby's receptive language skills (i.e., their ability to understand what you're saying.) Remarkably, receptive skills often precede expressive (verbal) skills. So if your little one points at objects, comprehends simple instructions such as "give Daddy the ball," and turns their head when you call their name, you can rest assured that these are strong indicators of typical language development.

Generally, early words include sounds like "b," "d," and "m," as they are the easiest for babies to articulate. This is why words like "mama" or "dada" are frequently among the early vocabulary. However, there can be considerable variation, with some babies choosing less common first words. Your baby might associate specific sounds with particular objects or concepts, and these sounds may have multiple meanings. For instance, "baba" might signify "bottle," "banana," and "baby." One way to figure out whether a sound your baby makes constitutes a word, consider whether they use it consistently in reference to a specific person or object. By the age of one, babies can point, wave, and incorporate words while gesturing—like shaking their head while saying "no" or waving while saying "bye."

When Do Babies Start Talking? What to Know & How to Help

When Do Babies Start to Talk Using Sentences?

Initially, babies typically start with just a handful of words, and it can be weeks or even months before they expand their vocabulary. However, between 18 months and two years of age, most infants experience a language burst, acquiring approximately one new word each week. Nevertheless, it's usually closer to their second birthday when babies truly start "speaking" by forming basic sentences.

According to the Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP), the majority of two-year-olds can identify and name pictures in books, recognize people and common objects, and have a vocabulary of 50 to 100 words. They will also begin combining words into two-word phrases like "all done" and "play ball." Some two-year-olds may even start constructing three-word sentences, while others may engage in more extended verbal expressions. It's worth noting that bilingual children might appear to have delayed speech development, as they may grapple with choosing between languages. Pediatricians inquire about the languages spoken at home to differentiate between genuine delays and typical linguistic progression. 

When Do Babies Start Talking? What to Know & How to Help

Fostering Speech and Language Development in Babies

Babies are constantly observing and listening. Engaging in everyday conversations with them stands out as one of the most effective methods to facilitate their language advancement. Additionally, reading books and singing songs together actively support language development. Here are a few other recommendations from the  American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) that help infants and young toddlers better understand spoken language and learn to express themselves:

  • Initiate conversations with your baby, even before they can vocalize. React to their sounds, laughter, and expressive faces, taking turns in this nonverbal dialogue.
  • As your little one starts learning and uttering words, expand on their vocabulary. For instance, if they say "milk," you could respond with, "Would you like more milk? Here's milk in your blue cup."
  • While narrating your actions or reading a book, introduce words for colors, shapes, and numbers. For example, "Look, there are four bananas on the table. Count with me: one, two, three, four!"

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Indications of Delayed Speech Development

It's important to keep in mind that every baby progresses at their own pace when it comes to speech development. Some babies may start talking later than others, while some may begin earlier. Both scenarios are perfectly normal. Developmental milestones are rough estimates, and it's acceptable if your baby doesn't align precisely with them. Additionally, it's worth noting that babies can experience a lag in expressive speech (spoken language) while still being on track with receptive speech (understanding).

Language delays are relatively common. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reports that one in five children will acquire speech skills later than their peers. In many cases, these delays naturally resolve themselves. Nevertheless, it's advisable to discuss any concerns regarding your child's language development with your pediatrician to evaluate the extent of the delay. Occasionally, speech delays may serve as indicators of underlying issues such as hearing impairment, developmental delays, or autism spectrum disorder.

The Takeaway

Parenting a baby is an adventure filled with exciting milestones. Few moments rival the sheer joy of witnessing your baby's first heartwarming smile or the exhilaration (and occasional jitters!) that accompany those initial wobbly steps. Your baby's first babbles, their very first word, and that magical first sentence are precious memories you'll always cherish.

Yet, along with the excitement of these milestones often come worries. Concerns may arise about the pace at which your baby is reaching these milestones or whether they are mastering them correctly. That's why it's crucial to openly discuss any concerns or questions with your pediatrician. They can provide guidance and offer reassurance, helping to ease any anxieties you might have along the way.

Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. Please contact your health provider if you have any medical questions or concerns about your child or yourself.

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