What age should my baby start talking?

Babies start out their lives with communication through crying, because it’s the only resource they have available to them. Soon, your baby will begin to coo and babble, and then eventually form actual words to communicate with you, which makes this an exciting time.

Sherry Artemenko is a speech-language pathologist and founded Play on Words, and she says this about the babbling phase:

“Babbling is an important milestone because it represents the beginning of real communication, when a baby starts experimenting with sounds, listening for a reaction, responding, and building social relationships.” 

It is important to remember that babies are hard-wired to learn — mostly from you. She will develop her budding communication skills every time you spend the time to talk to her, and she will watch how you communicate with other people and learn from that.

Language and socialization are enormously important in your baby’s young life developmentally, but luckily, there are things that you can do specifically to help her absorb and discover her own linguistic skills. The most important of these things is to engage in conversation with your baby — often.

How should I help my baby learn how to talk?

Even if she doesn’t understand you, she is still learning valuable tones and syllables that she will use in the future to form words and sentences. It is also helpful to pause after you speak to your baby so that she may have some processing and response time, like when you have a conversation with another adult.

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There is plenty of research to support the fact that speaking to your baby in proper words and sentences will positively affect her future language advancement and development. So continue to sing, talk, and read to your baby every day to ensure her smooth transition into the world of words and communication.

Most babies begin to say vowel sounds and then progress to cooing at two to three months old. Generally, the consonants that babies vocalize early on in their development are “p,” “b,” and “m” sounds.

First actual words happen commonly around six to seven months of age, and babies will also change their tones and inflection around this time to denote a question or a mood. Babies will also let you know more about how they are feeling with their speech at this age, such as grinning and bouncing up and down while talking.

When should my baby be saying words?

Closer to the end of the first year of life, your baby will sound more and more like she is stringing words together in actual sentences, and it will become monumentally easier to understand her wants and needs. Common first words are “dada,” “mama,” “ball,” and “hi.”

There are, however, some warning signs to be aware of if your baby is not chattering or was and then stops or regresses. By 15 months of age, she should be saying actual words, making eye contact, and gesturing to illustrate her communication points.

Melanie Potock, who is s pediatric speech-language pathologist, feeding specialist, and author, advises:

“Parents can help babies develop language by paying attention to infant cues, like smiles and eye gaze, looking directly into baby’s eyes and responding with a bit of a baby voice.” 

Using a higher-pitched, sing-song voice (sometimes referred to as “motherese”) helps parents to communicate with their children before words are understood.

If this seems to be describing your baby, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with your pediatrician, who will likely refer you to a speech-language pathologist. If your child is school-aged, also call her school to find helpful resources.

When should I be concerned?

Some parents also opt for teaching their infants sign language as a means for communication before they are developmentally able to talk. Another thing that doctors look at when assessing language development in young children is comprehension.

If your 12-18-month-old child can follow one straightforward instruction, such as “pick up your teddy bear off of the floor,” then she is probably right on track developmentally. However, somewhere around 17 percent of American children have a developmental disability, such as autism spectrum disorder. If you feel like something is wrong, be sure to mention it to your pediatrician promptly.

If your child seems like she is in her own little world and doesn’t frighten from loud noises, this is also a cause for concern. By age two, at least half of what your child says should be able to be interpreted by others.

Click here for tips from a speech therapist on how to get your toddler to talk!

By age three, three-quarters of what your child says should be intelligible, and by four, everything. Research shows that the vast majority (70-80 percent) of children with delays in expression tend to meet their peers by age four.

How can I help my child the most?

Repeatedly, it has been demonstrated in studies that the more infant-directed speech there is, the better that child’s language skills will be. Language skills, in turn, directly affect a child’s IQ, emotional regulation, and executive functioning.

Interestingly, in a study done in Bolivian Amazon children of the Tsimané society, these particular mothers spoke to their young children for less than one minute every hour, which is approximately one-tenth of the amount of time that American mothers spend talking to their babies.

Researchers expected that language development would be delayed in these children, which it was. Still, they were later surprised to learn that it did not affect their futures as productive, linguistically complete members of that society. Many of these children were raised bilingual, learning Spanish as well as their native Tsimané.

This is not to suggest that you should cease talking to your children. Talking to your children frequently in a higher-pitched, sing-song voice will speed their learning how to communicate the most.

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