When do babies start talking?

Babies generally start talking at around 12 months, this is usually simple words like “Mumma” and “Dadda”. The first time your newborn communicates with you it will not be through talking but by expressing her emotions and informing you of her needs, this happens very soon after birth. Smiling, crying, squirming, grimacing and opening her mouth etc are all natural reflexes to let you know if she is feeling hungry, frustrated, cold, hot, afraid, tired, happy, unhappy and so the list goes on. In time, parents learn how to interpret these different cries and visual cues. You can encourage language development by cooing, singing, babbling, talking and reading to your baby. Eye contact from birth is also very important. Your little ones journey from zero to 36 months is covered here. As always, these milestones are for guidance only, some start talking sooner and some start a little later, if you are concerned about your child’s development, talk to your health visitor, GP or other medical professional.

0-5 Months

  • You should start talking to your newborn as soon as she is born, babies recognise the sound and tone of your voice and are comforted by it.
  • At 12 weeks, she will look into your eyes as you talk and listen to your voice.
  • She may also turn her head towards other sounds such as voices, music, rattles and hands being clapped.
  • If you played music and spoke to her when she was in the womb then she is likely to prefer those sounds and those same voices.
  • At around 4 months babies begin making sounds.
  • Teach her how conversations work; listen to her, look her in the eyes, nod your head, repeat the same sounds back to her and await her reply.

6 months+

  • When he is around 6 months old there will be many different sounds, mainly ‘Dadda’ or ‘Babba’ (or both), these sounds do not have any meaning at this stage, this comes later (approximately 12 months).
  • At around 7 months he may be able to recognise and respond to his own name and be able to communicate his emotions by using a different tone of voice.
  • He can also recognise when people are talking in his native tongue.
  • Talking in one or two syllable words regularly and pointing out simple objects such as “car, brick, milk, Mumma, Dadda, Bye” etc. helps him on his way to saying his first words.

9 months+

  • When she is 9 months, Her talking and understanding of words has developed further.
  • She has a wide variety of differing sounds and tones.
  • She may also be able to understand a few basic words such as “hello”, “bye-bye”, “yes”, “no” and of course “mummy” and “daddy”.

12 months+

  • When he is 1 year old he may have a few simple words in his vocabulary (around 7-10).
  • Most babies can say “Mummy” or “Mumma” and “Daddy” or “Dadda” and know the meaning (unlike at 6 months)!…
  • He is likely to have a much better understanding of your requests, such as “clap your hands”, “put that down” and “up” and “down”.
  • When it comes to talking repetition is key, REPETITION IS KEY, babies are much more likely to remember and use words that are repeated to them than words that are seldom used.
  • Continue to introduce new words and phrases as well as repeating and over-using the words he is already able to say.
  • Re-enforce understanding by using a variety of methods to build associations, for example, if you go to a farm and are talking about a pig, take a picture of it, print it out when you get home, compare the picture to that of a toy/teddy pig and make some piggy sounds. This variety of methods help develop babies connections with words.
  • Commentate on everything you do and on everything your little one does. “Mummy is having a drink”. “Mummy is clapping her hands, can you clap your hands?” “We are going in the car now, can you see the car?” You will be amazed at how many words will be picked up from you commentating and talking about your everyday activities.

18 months+

  • You may be singing a lot of “Head, shoulders knees and toes” when he is approaching 18 months, if not, why not?
  • When he is around one and a half, he is able to point to parts of the body as you say them.
  • His language consists of saying approximately 20 simple words and understanding at least 50.
  • Babies at this age often repeat words that you say to them so try to keep sentences short and direct and choose the order of your words wisely; babies repeat the last word they have heard, particularly if you emphasise it.
  • As an example, if you are focusing on the word balloon, say “up goes the balloon“, if you are focusing on the word up, say “the balloon goes up“. (And don’t forget to repeat yourself).
  • If his pronunciation of words isn’t quite right then don’t worry, it is common for babies of this age to drop the endings of words.
  • To continue to encourage babies to talk, don’t correct mis-pronunciation at this age, as long as you continue to talk, he will continue to listen and learn.

2 years+

  • When she is 2 years old, you can expect her to start talking in short sentences; perhaps two to four words.
  • She will have a much better idea of how language works and will able to use it to great effect.
  • As well as being able to identify objects, she may also be able to use her language skills to inform you of more abstract ideas like “teddy-mine..” or “me-play…”
  • Encourage your child’s interest in language by reading books together and talking about/discussing the pictures. If you are not a confident reader yourself you can still enjoy books by creating your own stories from picture books and attending story telling sessions at your local libraries and children’s centres.

3 years +

  • When he is 3 years old old your child’s vocabulary will amaze you.
  • You are no longer wondering when do babies start talking, but how can I continue to improve my child’s vocabulary….
  • Be prepared for plenty of imaginary play, encourage it and enjoy it. It will help your child to have a greater understanding of how the world around him works.
  • Discuss emotions, explain and discuss different behaviour and ‘act out’ how this can make others feel. This makes for fantastic learning and often very amusing conversations.
  • Talk to your child about your day, what made you feel happy and what made you feel sad.
  • Ask your child the same questions and explore his understanding of his own emotions and help him to communicate these.

There is nothing more rewarding and nothing more enjoyable than talking with your child. Please feel free to add your comments.

What if my childs speech is delayed?

  • If your child doesn’t reach these milestones on time then don’t panic just yet, they are a guide only.
  • You should check with your GP if you are concerned about your child’s speech, particularly if you feel that it is delayed and it is not looking likely that the particular milestone will be reached in the near future.
  • Your GP will never turn you away if you have a developmental concern.
  • You should ensure that your newborn has had a hearing test before you are discharged from hospital having given birth.
  • If the results of the test are inconclusive be sure to have a follow up hearing test before he is one month old.
  • If your baby failed the hearing test, be sure to have a full hearing exam before he is 3 months. The sooner a diagnosis is made, the sooner you can get the necessary help.
  • If there is no obvious reason for your child’s speech delay, you may want to see a speech therapist, this can also be arranged through your GP.
  • If your child is having problems with vocal communication, a speech therapist can diagnose, treat, advise and help your child if need be.
  • A speech therapist may recommend games for you to play and enjoy together or give your child exercises to encourage speech development.