After a few months of vocalising and linguistic experimenting, from coos to growls to sing-songy combinations of vowels and consonants, your baby is likely to say their first words. By the age of eight months, your baby will most likely be putting together "ma-ma" and "da-da" noises without knowing what they represent. But it's a developmental milestone that seems like magic when those sounds start to turn into words with meaning.
When do babies start talking?
Between the ages of 9 and 14 months, babies begin to talk — that is, attempt to express themselves in meaningful language. Some babies don't pronounce a recognisable word until they're 18 months old, while others start communicating in words or word-sounds as early as 7 months ("ba-ba" for bye-bye, bottle, or ball; "da" or "da-da" for dog, dad, or doll). "Da-da" appears to be significantly simpler for babies to utter than "ma-ma," so don't be surprised if your baby's first "genuine" word is about Dad (or the family dog).
How to get your baby talking
Receptive language, or knowing individual words and their meanings, is the first step in language acquisition. Beginning at infancy, newborns pay great attention to the words and noises that surround them and learn to decipher their meanings. Your baby will most likely grasp individual words, such as their own name and the names of other people and familiar items by the age of six months. They will begin to explore making noises of their own after a few months of repeatedly hearing familiar words packed amid the huge mix of sounds they hear every day. All of this brings your baby closer and closer to saying their first word..
Talking to your baby a lot is the best approach to encourage them to say their first words, they will eagerly respond to your spoken signals. As you clothe your baby, cook dinner, or walk down the street, narrate your day by describing what you're doing. Pronounce the names of things and people. Reading to your child while pointing out objects and their names in the pictures they see is a good idea. Ask them questions, engage in one-sided dialogues, and pay attention if they respond. When they do speak up, smile, make eye contact, and show that you're paying attention. Your interest will inspire your baby, and they'll be eager to try again and again.
More ways to encourage your baby to talk:
- Slowly and clearly speak, concentrating on single words. Slowing down as you flip through a picture book or describing what you're doing as you place the book back on the shelf helps your child grasp and focus on specific words.
- Instead of pronouns, use names. Instead of using the shorthand of a pronoun, whenever feasible, name the person you're talking about: "This is Mommy's coffee" or "Here is Sarah's bear" are both simpler and easier for babies to grasp.
- Sing rhymes and songs. Nursery rhymes and songs teach your baby important language skills through simple rhythms and amusing repetition.
- Repetition is your best ally. Saying things twice, singing the same songs over and over, pointing out the same flower pot every time you pass it on the street...all of this repetition, as boring as it may seem to you, is incredibly interesting to your child, because it helps reinforce your their growing understanding of how a particular sound attaches to a particular thing.
What not to worry about
When it comes to speech, the definition of "normal" is a moving target. As early as 7 months, your child may begin to use sound-words like "mi" for "milk" or "dat" for "that" (as in, "I want that!"). Alternatively, your child may not begin to say words or sound out words until they’re 18 months old. Every child develops at their own rate.
What’s next for baby
Your baby will learn to understand words long before saying their first words, but concepts and directives will take a little longer. Most toddlers can start following simple commands around their first birthday (and often sooner), but only if the commands are given one step at a time. Around the 18th month mark, your toddler's vocabulary will likely increase, and by the age of two, they may be able to construct a sentence.