When do babies start talking?

Of all the milestones that babies reach during their first two years of life, talking is one of the most exciting. New parents can hardly wait to hear what their little ones have to say! In the meantime, there are a lot of questions. When do babies start talking? For that matter, what counts as talking? How long will you have to wait for your baby’s coos and babbles to turn into words?

  • Babies communicate before they talk. As soon as they’re born, babies communicate with their parents and caregivers by crying. Soon, you’ll understand what your baby’s different cries mean, but this is only one way that babies let you know what they need. They grimace and squirm, and by about two months, babies start cooing and gurgling. By four months they babble and may even try to copy your sounds and respond to your speech, and as this back and forth increases, by about six months your baby may use particular sounds to respond to your questions. Six month old babies have refined their babbling, and use more m and b sounds, as well as squealing and blowing raspberries. By about nine months, your baby will probably be making a lot of “mamama” and “bababa” sounds, will look at you when you call his or her name, and will hold up arms to be held.
  • Every baby is different. Generally, babies speak their first words between nine and 12 months of age. However, this is just a range, and babies develop at different rates. While it’s helpful to have an idea of the typical timeline, it’s also good to remember that your baby will do things on his or her own schedule.
  • Toddlers develop speech quickly. Once they say those first words, things escalate quickly. By the end of their 12th month, babies can usually say a few words, like “mama” and “dada,” and can respond to short requests. By 18 months they can say several simple words, and by two years they’ll be able to string together short phrases. 18 to 24 month old babies learn new words every day, and by two years may know as many as 50 to 100 words! A three year old is likely to have a vocabulary of more than 200 words, and is beginning not only to speak in sentences but also to speak more clearly. At this stage, children begin to understand symbolic and abstract language, as well, and this development is furthered by imaginative play.
  • You can facilitate language development. Talk to your baby, naming things during play, mealtime, and bath time. Use names, so that your baby begins to associate names with faces. Speak slowly and enunciate your words, and repeat words so that they’ll stick in your baby’s mind. Sing songs to your little ones, read books and nursery rhymes, and narrate your day together. Encourage your baby’s attempts at speech, and praise imitation. Listen to your little one, and respond to what’s being communicated.
  • Know when to worry about speech delay. As long as your baby’s babbling is progressing, don’t worry too much about timing. However, if you suspect a problem, talk to your pediatrician. If language development seems to stop or regress, your baby is not babbling or gesturing, or words don’t begin to emerge by about 15 months, have your child screened for problems. A hearing test may be needed, or a visit to a speech-language pathologist. You might also want to consider developmental screening, to rule out autism spectrum disorder or cognitive disability, which can delay speech.

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