At What Age Should A Baby Talk

New babies take time to develop verbal skills. Although the age when babies begin to talk varies, most start by 12 months. If your baby is younger than this and isn’t using gestures such as pointing or waving “bye-bye,” you may want to check in with your doctor. Sounds are another way that infants and young children communicate, so don’t be concerned if at 18 months your child still isn’t talking fluently. By this age, your child should be able to do things such as imitate sounds and words you say.

When should you worry if your child is not talking? If your child does not say at least one word by his or her first birthday, talk with your family doctor.

Babies communicate in many ways before they walk, including by babbling, pointing and waving. Babies also wave bye-bye and imitatively repeat sounds. By 12 months, your baby should be able to say single words. By 18 months, children usually begin to say 2-word phrases. If your child isn’t doing these things by these ages, talk to his or her doctor about whether he or she needs more speech-language therapy.

Most children begin speaking by 12 months. However, around age 18 months, some children are just starting to say a few words. Sometimes this is just a matter of time. Other times it could mean that a child has developmental delay and might need speech-language therapy. If your child isn’t talking well by 18 months, talk with your doctor.

Your child’s first word usually happens around 12 months. But by 18 months, if you still don’t have much to show for your child’s babbling baby talk, talk with your doctor.

When your baby is born, she probably won’t be able to talk. That doesn’t mean she can’t communicate! Many babies use gestures and sounds, like waving “bye-bye” or calling “mama,” to let you know what they want. As she gets older, your baby will start making real words, repeating them back to you, and may even sing—all signs that her speech is developing normally.

ou probably have plenty of questions about your child’s developing speech skills. When do babies say their first word? When can they understand dialogue and hold conversations? Follow our talking timeline to learn more about this important milestone.

It’s not all about speech

Generally, children begin to babble from around the age of six months and say their first words between ten and 15 months (most start speaking at about 12 months). They then begin to pick up increasing numbers of words and start to combine them into simple sentences after around 18 months.

It is important to note that language is not just the sounds we make with our voice. The idea that language is only speech is a huge misconception. We take it for granted, but understanding the language used by those around us is a very complex task. We need to have knowledge of the words being used, have a concept of what those words mean in different contexts and understand the meaning of a sentence based on the order of the words. These are called receptive language skills.

Parents should be aware that from the earliest stages of language development, children understand more than they can communicate themselves. Indeed, it is through children’s understanding of the language surrounding them – in other words, what parents, siblings and caregivers are saying – that they build their own language skills.

Some conditions affecting speech, such as a stutter, are highly noticeable. In contrast, the problems children have when they are not developing language in the typical fashion can sometimes be hidden. Sometimes seemingly complex instructions can be readily understood due to the overall context. For example, telling your child to “go and get your coat and boots on” may be understood due to the context of getting ready to leave the house and understanding the words “coat” and “boots”.

Other instructions with a less clear context, such as “get the blue and black book that is under the blanket on the chair”, require a better understanding of the language itself and might be harder for children with language difficulties. It is often difficult to identify an underlying language problem in many children, particularly when they are good at using the social context.


Read more: Before babies understand words, they understand tones of voice


When to seek help

For the children themselves, it can be very frustrating when they are unable to express their thoughts or when they don’t fully understand what is going on around them. A child that has temper tantrums but finds it hard to say why they are distressed may have an underlying language difficulty. This might signal language delay, which is not uncommon. If you notice that your child finds it hard to follow simple instructions this could be due to a difficulty in understanding language, which may indicate a more persistent problem.

About 70-80% of children with expressive delays catch up with their language by the age of four. For others this might highlight developmental language disorder (DLD), a long-term impairment of language skills. Even experts find it difficult to tell language delay and disorder apart before primary school. DLD is thought to affect 7.6%, or one in 15 children. DLD can affect expressive and receptive language skills and it lasts into adulthood.

All children have the capacity to thrive, but children with DLD may need extra support to achieve their full potential. Rather than “wait and see” it is a good idea to seek professional advice, particularly if your child is between 18 and 30 months and appears to have problems understanding language, uses very few gestures to communicate and is slow at learning new words. The first step is to contact a local speech and language therapy service.

Boosting language skills

Language is flexible and there is no such thing as too much language input. Whatever level of language development your child has, there are always things that you can do to boost their language skills further.

For example, when you are playing with your toddler, watch where their eyes are going and label the things they see. If they say “horse running”, you can build on this with: “Yes, the horse is running! Where is he running to?” This helps children to learn new words and concepts as well as learn about how better to structure sentences.

Reading books together is great for building language skills, as you can find new words in books for things not often seen in real life, such as zoo animals. It is also valuable in promoting attention and listening skills. Be sure to ask lots of “why” and “how” questions to get more language out of your child, rather than questions which can be answered with a “yes” or “no”. Watching videos or children’s television can be similar, but only if you are watching and discussing the videos or shows together.

It sounds simple but having back and forth conversations with your child can help enormously. Not only can this be incredibly rewarding socially, but it can help build and expand their language and wider social communication skills. Try to build this into regular activities, such as talking with your child while doing the supermarket shop.

When Can A Baby Talk

Children develop at varying rates in all sorts of ways, from when they take their first steps to when they understand that their own perspective might be different to someone else’s. Language is no different so there is no set age at which a child should start talking.

There are, of course, certain milestones which most children achieve in their communication at certain ages and it can be a daunting time for parents who see their friend’s children begin speaking earlier than their own. For most children, this is likely just the natural variation in when children achieve their own milestones. For others, this could be a temporary language delay which will eventually see them catch up without any intervention.

But for some children a delay in early language milestones might be the first sign of a long-term disorder of language development. So what should parents look for if they are concerned about their child’s language development?

Birth to 6 Months

Babies listen from day one. They learn to associate sounds with their sources, like barking with the family dog. Her first communication will be crying, but she’ll soon start using her tongue, lips, and palate to make gurgles and long vowel sounds like “oo,” “aa,” and “ee”—precursors to Baby’s first words.

What your baby can understand: Babies as young as 4 weeks can distinguish between similar syllables like “ma” and “na.” Around 2 months, they begin to associate certain sounds with certain lip movements.

4 to 6 Months

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4 to 6 Months

Around 4 to 6 months, your baby’s sighs will give way to babbling. You’ll hear back-of-the-tongue consonant sounds, such as g and k, and lip sounds m, w, p, and b. He focuses on familiar words, his own name, or “mommy” and “daddy” as clues to help break up sentences.

What your baby can understand: At 4.5 months, he may recognize his name, but only as an important word, such as “Hi!” or “Bye!” It’s not until 6 months, at the earliest, that he’ll realize his name actually refers to himself.

The Dos and Don'ts of Baby Talk

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The Dos and Don’ts of Baby Talk

7 to 12 Months

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7 to 12 Months

Your child’s babbling will begin to sound more like words. She’ll intentionally repeat sounds (like “gaga”) over and over. At about 9 months, she’ll start to understand gestures, pointing and grunting to indicate her wants. At about 10 months, she’ll gain more control and combine sounds, even using her own invented words.

So when do babies usually say their first word? Around 12 months, according to experts. Common first words may be greetings (“hi” or “bye-bye”) or they might be very concrete: people (“mama” or “dada”), pets (“doggy” or “kitty”), or food (“cookie,” “juice,” or “milk”).

What your baby can understand: Your baby is slowly beginning to recognize and comprehend a few familiar words, such as names and everyday objects like “bottle” or “crib.” She focuses on intonation, realizing that a sharp tone often means “No!” or “Stop!”

13 to 18 Months

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13 to 18 Months

As soon as your baby says that first word, he’ll try for more. Vocabulary builds slowly at first, with just a few words per month. Kids seem to prefer nouns, then gradually add verbs and adjectives to their dictionary. He’ll experiment with one-word questions, like “Cookie?” for “May I have a cookie?” and delight in saying “No!”

What your toddler can understand: He should understand the first rudiments of grammar, such as the difference between “The dog bit the man.” and “The man bit the dog.” He should grasp simple one-step instructions (“Get the ball”) and understand many more words than he can say.

Baby Words Timeline

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Baby Words Timeline

As infants learn to communicate, they progress at very different rates. Your baby may lag behind at some points, but as long as she produces syllables with consonants (such as “ba” or “da”) by 10 months and doesn’t suddenly lose the ability to babble once she’s gained it, experts say there’s no need to worry.

19-24 Months

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19-24 Months

Though linguists aren’t sure why, toddlers have a “language explosion” around 19 to 20 months. After several weeks of slow progress, they suddenly start learning words at a ferocious rate—as many as nine words each day!

This explosion of words leads to the exhausting “Why?” stage. By the end of the second year, your toddler will be stringing two, or even four, words together in sentences. This is also an age of cute mistakes, as kids overextend and “under-extend” concepts. For instance, your child may learn that the round toy is a “ball,” figure all round things must be balls and point to the full moon, and chirp, “Ball!”

What your toddler can understand: Your baby will slowly begin to understand the idea of verbs. Fully aware that you are her key to language, she will watch and listen to you, absorbing everything you say and do.

25 to 30 Months

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25 to 30 Months

During this time, your toddler is refining what he’s learned so far. He adds “When? What? Where?” to “Why?” He begins to add complex ideas, learning that “no” can mean “not” or “don’t” or “it’s all gone.” Late in the year, he may begin to use more abstract verbs like “think” and “know.” As he gains control of the tip of his tongue while speaking, he begins to manage sounds like ph, th, and r.

What your toddler can understand: He will begin to understand tense, plurals, and suffixes such as “ing” and “ly.” Soon, your child should be speaking in two-word sentences, such as “Drink milk” or “Play ball.”

Things you can do to help: Rhyming games help build awareness of language sounds. If he makes a mistake, repeat the sentence back correctly instead of drawing attention to the error. For instance, if he says, “I goed playground.” You can say back, “You went to the playground? Great!”

What to watch: Kids’ thoughts may go beyond their ability to form words. If stuttering, or some other problem like a lisp, concerns you, consult your pediatrician.

3 Years

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3 Years

By 3 years old, your toddler should convey whole thoughts by employing just a few words, like saying “Mommy no socks” for “Mommy isn’t wearing any socks today.” Later in the year, she’ll speak in longer sentences, putting several thoughts together to tell a story in about 300 words.

What your toddler can understand: She should be able to follow a storyline and remember ideas from it. She’ll begin to enjoy nonsense phrases.

Things you can do to help: Read to her from storybooks with more of a narrative. Kids need more assistance than we do for conversation. Take a look at her preschool class list, and start making stuff up. Was Mary in school today? Add something silly, like “Was she wearing that hat with the fruit on it again?”

4 to 5 Years

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4 to 5 Years

By this age, your child should be having extensive conversations with adults; using adjectives in detailed sentences; telling knock-knock jokes; and asking questions with proper intonation. Before he turns 6, he’ll likely have an expressive vocabulary of around 2,500 words.

What your toddler can understand: About 14,000 words. He’ll also be able to express complicated thoughts like fears and dreams, say “thank you”, and use words to elicit reactions from others.

Things you can do to help:  Don’t criticize any missteps in articulation or speech. Instead, repeat his statements back to him with the correct pronunciation or word usage. Give your child lots of praise for his efforts.

What to watch for: Too much screen time. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children 2 and older view no more than two hours of quality programming per day. Kids need interaction and response to learn language. Most TV shows don’t interact, and computer games aren’t responsive to a child’s ideas.

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