12 to 18 months
By 12 to 18 months: Baby says single words. By age 2: Child says two-word phrases, such as “Dog sit.” “Mommy go.” By age 3: Child has words for almost everything and speaks three-word phrases.
As adults, we can recognize the words in baby talk. But babies and younger children have not yet learned to associate sounds with particular meanings. What they are making is not language, but babbling. When we realize that it doesn’t make sense to anyone, we can relax and enjoy listening and talking with the little one.
Babbling is a form of communication that sounds very different from our adult language, but it is a form of communication just the same. Before babies speak in complete sentences, they babble a lot. It’s important for parents to listen to and understand their baby’s babbling because it’s how your baby communicates what he wants or needs.
How can you tell if your baby is babbling? First, look for recognizable sounds like ba, da, or ma. Then recognize the rhythm and pitch of the sounds; they’ll sound similar to a language but have an unusual pattern.
Don’t worry if your baby’s speech is all over the place. Language development is a complex process, and the ability to produce words doesn’t mean you can necessarily understand them. Your baby may vowel-ize for quite awhile or even go through several “phases” of babbling. Sometimes just try to listen for when your baby varies her intonation or adds a sound to make it more like a word you already know. Even from the very first cries, your baby has been babbling away—just waiting for you to begin to understand.
bab·ble verb \ˈbā-bəl\ , ante, babbled present tense or past tense babbles ; present participle bab·bling , n 1. Baby talk; the use of simple words or sounds in imitation of speech by a young child who is beginning to develop language and has not yet learned the structure or vocabulary of adult sounds.
At What Age Should A Child Be Speaking Clearly?
By 24 months (two years), 50 to 75% of speech should be intelligible to familiar people. By 36 months (three years), 75 to 100% of speech should be intelligible to familiar people. By four years of age, a child should usually be understood, including by people who are unfamiliar to them.
Your baby’s babbling may sound like meaningless babble to you, but there is actually a lot of learning going on behind the scenes. Every time your tot utters “ba-ba buh” she is discoverig new sounds and experimenting with her mouth and tongue movements.
Besides “mama” and “dada,” few words are more synonymous with baby talk than “goo-goo” and “gaa-gaa.” Want to imitate a baby? Splutter a bunch of meaningless syllables in a row, without any rhyme or reason, and boom — you’ll instantly sound like an 8-month-old.
The randomized strings of vowels and consonants that babies produce are called babbling.
And while it probably seems totally insignificant when your little one is simply talking to themselves while smashing peas into the cracks of their highchair, you might wonder: Is babbling actually as meaningless to your child’s communication skills as it sounds?
Should A 2 Year Old Be Talking?
By age 2, milestones for speech and language include having a vocabulary of 50 or more words, even if they aren’t pronounced perfectly or understood by strangers.
No. In fact, a wide range of experts, from speech pathologists to pediatricians, know that babbling plays a pretty important role in the language development of infants. It helps them gain control over their articulation and express themselves.
Baby Talk: Smile and Pay Attention
Long before they can speak clearly, babies understand the general meaning of what you’re saying. They also absorb emotional tone. Encourage baby’s early attempts to communicate with you with loving attention:https://da257bdc913e2ba68acc5712a7dad200.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
- Smile often at your baby, especially when they are cooing, gurgling, or otherwise vocalizing with baby talk.
- Look at your baby as they babble and laugh, rather than looking away, interrupting, or talking with someone else.
- Be patient as you try to decode your infant’s baby talk and nonverbal communication, like facial expressions, gurgling, or babbling sounds that could signal either frustration or joy.
- Make time to give your baby lots of loving attention, so they can “speak” to you with their baby talk, even when you’re busy with other tasks.
Baby Talk: Imitate Your Baby
Right from the start, baby talk should be a two-way street. By imitating your baby, you’ll send an important message: what they are feeling and trying to communicate matters to you.
- Have back-and-forth conversations in baby talk to teach your baby the give-and-take of adult conversation.
- Imitate baby’s vocalizations — “ba-ba” or “goo-goo” — then wait for them to make another sound, and repeat that back.
- Do your best to respond, even when you don’t understand what your baby is trying to say.
- Reinforce communication by smiling and mirroring facial expressions.
- Because gestures are a way babies try to communicate, imitate your baby’s gestures, as well.
Baby Talk: Talk Often to Your Baby
Babies love to hear you talk — especially to them, and especially in a warm, happy voice. Babies learn to speak by imitating the sounds they hear around them. So the more you talk to your baby, the faster they will acquire speech and language skills.
- Many adults use a special tone of voice when talking baby talk — a high-pitched voice with exaggerated expression. This natural baby talk mimics the female voice, which babies the world over associate with feeding and comfort. Keep in mind that talking “baby talk” won’t prevent or delay your infant from learning adult speech later.
- Engage your baby’s listening skills by talking often to them throughout the day, narrating your activities together. Talk as you’re feeding, dressing, carrying, and bathing your baby, so they begin to associate these sounds of language with everyday objects and activities.
- Repeat simple words like “mama” and “bottle” often and clearly so your baby begins to hear familiar words and associate them with their meaning.
Baby Talk: How Babies Learn to Talk
Parents often wonder where their child’s speech ability is on the learning curve. The timeline for each child varies greatly: Some babies can say a few words at 12 months, but others don’t talk until they’re 18 months old — and then spout short sentences.
- At 1 to 3 months: Babies already love to hear the sound of your voice and may smile, laugh, get quiet, or get excited and wave their arms when you talk or sing to them. Your infant‘s baby talk usually starts with cooing and gurgling, with some vowel sounds, like “ooh,” appearing at around two months.
It’s not too early to start reading to your infant. Being read to helps stimulate the developing brain. Many babies are soothed by music, and begin to recognize simple songs by reacting with smiles, gurgles, and waving arms and legs.
- At 4 to 7 months: Babies now realize that their baby talk has an impact on their parents. They babble more and watch for their parents’ reaction. Babies experiment with more sounds and intonations. They begin to raise and lower the pitch of their voices as they babble, just as adults do when asking a question or adding emphasis.
As you introduce your baby to simple, short words like “cup” and “ball,” hold up the object to show that it’s related to your speech. Read colorful picture books to your baby. Point to the pictures, and name simple objects to reinforce their early speech development and model the importance of language and reading. Practice using short words and then pausing. This will allow your baby to respond with their own baby talk and encourage the give-and-take interaction that’s needed for adult conversation.
- At 8 to 12 months: It’s a unique joy for parents to hear their baby say “mama” or “dada” for the first time. But the first few times may actually be accidental. Baby talk at this age is still primarily a hit-or-miss playing with sounds like “ga-ga,” “da-da,” and “ba-ba.”
Smile, face your baby, and continue to repeat simple words clearly throughout the day. This will help your baby’s growing brain to store the sounds and meanings of words for everyday objects. At this age, babies love one-on-one interaction with you. They also love games and songs with language, like “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “Patty-Cake.”https://da257bdc913e2ba68acc5712a7dad200.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
Baby Talk: See Your Baby’s Doctor If …
During the first year, baby should respond to your baby talk by cooing, gurgling, and beginning to babble back. They should respond to “no,” to their own name, and to simple requests like “come here.”
So while normal language development has wide variation, it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your child’s growth. Have your baby’s speech evaluated at each well-baby checkup, and talk with your baby’s doctor if you’re concerned about delayed speech or a hearing problem. And remember: Your baby loves to hear your voice, so don’t be embarrassed by your own “silly” baby talk.
How To Teach Baby Talk
You can spur your child’s communication skills when you:
- Ask your child to help you. For example, ask him to put his cup on the table or to bring you his shoe.
- Teach your child simple songs and nursery rhymes. Read to your child. …
- Encourage your child to talk to friends and family. …
- Engage your child in pretend play.
Your baby’s first year will be a flurry of changes — and not just diapers. From the first smiles, gurgles, and coos to learning to say “mama” or “dada,” babies love to communicate with their own form of baby talk. And they hope you’ll “baby talk” right back.
All through this first year, you can do a lot to encourage your baby’s communication skills. And it’s easy. All you need do is smile, talk, sing, and read to your baby.
Why focus on communicating with your baby? Because early speech and language skills are associated with success in developing reading, writing, and interpersonal skills, both later in childhood and later in life.
Here’s what you should know about this early phase of communication and how you can encourage your little babbler to keep on baby talking.
Babbling is sometimes called baby talk (or jargon, when it begins to take on the intonations of speech) because it doesn’t make any sense to people with developed language. It sounds like someone threw a bunch of letters in a box, jumbled them up, and tossed them back out again.
To be clear, while babbling is a crucial stepping stone to communication, the words themselves don’t mean anything. In other words, if your baby is singing “babababababa” during breakfast and pointing at a backpack, they’re not actually trying to say “backpack.” They’re just… babbling!
But the babbling still has significance. It’s how your child first learns the art of putting sounds together and, later, assigning those sounds some kind of meaning.
In fact, babbling is so complex that there are actually three different types of it correlating with different infant ages:
- Marginal babbling. Between 4 and 6 months of age, your baby may start ramping up their vowel pronunciation and pairing vowel sounds with consonant sounds. Most of these are single syllables — think “daa” and “baa.”
- Canonical babbling. Your 6- to 10-month-old should start making recognizable syllable sounds — and stringing several of them together. This is where all that “goo-goo” and “gaa-gaa” stuff begins! There are even two types of canonical babbling:
- reduplicated, where a baby repeats the same syllable sound over and over (“deedeedeedee”)
- non-reduplicated, where the syllable sounds strung together are different (“meebaagoo”)
- Conversational babbling. You know those viral videos where a baby is “arguing” with Mom or Dad in nothing but baby talk — but their speech patterns mimic adult speech? This is the stage of conversational babbling where your baby still isn’t putting real words together yet, but they understand that typical dialogue between people includes expression, pauses, volume changes, and even hand gestures. This often starts around 10 months old and is the big finale before a baby speaks their first real word.
Your baby will start making sounds the minute they’re born, but true speech development in babies doesn’t start until around 4 months old.
They’ll babble almost exclusively until about 12 months of age, when their grasp of communication really ramps up. Once they start speaking legit words (and matching them up with their real world counterparts, like “Mama” and “Dada”), babbling decreases.
Need a better breakdown? Here’s a timeline:
- 2 to 4 months: cooing, gurgling, and long vowel sounds
- 4 to 6 months: marginal babbling, where vowels and consonants come together in single syllables
- 6 to 10 months: canonical babbling, where these single syllables start doubling (or tripling or quadrupling!) up to create strings of sounds, reduplicated or not
- 10 to 15 months: first words, yay!
- 15 months and beyond: nonstop. talking. (We kid! Sort of.)
Remember when we told you that experts know how important baby talk is? Let’s get back to that.
In the first 1 or 2 months of your baby’s life, they mostly communicate with you by crying and then smiling. Soon after, though, they start to coo — which, aside from being the cutest sound ever, is a sign that your baby is catching on to this whole “verbal communication” thing.
It also means they’re working on strengthening the oral muscles needed for speech, experts say (because even though your baby is sucking on the nipple — yours or a bottle’s — like a piranha around the clock, the muscles needed for talking are slightly different).
Babbling is even more important. Babies love to imitate, for sure, but this imitation is also part of how they learn. Interestingly, it’s also part of how babies interact and socialize.
A 2017 studyTrusted Source suggests that the “conversations” between babies and their mothers, specifically, shapes their language development. When mothers respond to their babbling babies, their language grows — but babies may also be eliciting these responses from their mothers so they can learn to converse.
On the flip side, a 2019 study suggests that a delay or absence of canonical babbling in babies can be a marker for the later diagnosis of certain developmental disorders, such as autism, and it draws a connection between baby talk and future language development.
All babies develop at different speeds, but in general, most babies will start babbling around 4 to 6 months old and stop babbling around 12 months (or whenever they start speaking their first words).
Again, there’s a lot of variability here, but most babies aren’t still babbling by the time they reach 18 months.
If your baby doesn’t start babbling (or at least “cooing”) at 4 or 5 months of age, don’t panic — there’s some wiggle room here. However, if your baby is 8 months old and still not babbling, you may want to make an appointment with your pediatrician.
A delay in language development can point to a few different causes, ranging from hearing and speech impairments to developmental disorders like autism.
Early intervention to any sort of child development delay can go a long way toward improving outlook for you and your child, so don’t hesitate to reach out and ask some questions.
If your pediatrician suspects a hearing or speech impairment, they’ll likely refer you to an audiologist and, perhaps, a speech-language pathologist for intervention. If they think the complication might be neurological, your child may need to see a developmental pediatrician or similar type of specialist.
If your baby is starting to babble and you want to give them some encouragement to keep going, there are many ways you can coach them along, including:
- Talk back. If you were chatting away to someone who was ignoring you, would you keep talking? The more you play along with your baby’s budding speech, responding to them as if what they’re saying makes sense, the more they’ll want to talk (and the quicker they’ll learn the right words for things along the way).
- Narrate your life. Put names to faces. Announce what foods you’re taking out of the fridge. Point out objects on a walk through the park. One of the ways babies learn to communicate is by connecting words to the visual images they represent, so the more you make those connections, the more your baby will learn. Narrate what you’re doing, as you’re doing it, and your baby’s language might just explode.
- Sing. Babies can learn a lot about both vocabulary and speech patterns when you sing to them regularly, so warm up those vocal cords and get familiar with all the lyrics to “Baa Baa Black Sheep.”
- Read. Yes, it seems a little silly to read “Goodnight Moon” to a 4-month-old, but babies are sponges — and every exposure to word sounds, sentence structure, intonation, and speech patterns counts. Start reading when your baby is a newborn, experts say, and don’t stop until they ask you to (trust us, it might be longer than you think!).
- Imitate them (kind of). No, not to poke fun or to repeat baby talk… to let them know they’re legitimately communicating with you! Engaging with your baby’s speech patterns encourages them to keep initiating speech. Even if you just use words with similar sounds — rather than an exact imitation — and respond right away, it can be helpful in speeding up their language development, per 2014 researchTrusted Source. For example, if baby says “bababa” while playing with a ball, you might respond with, “Yes, you’re playing with a ball. Is it a blue ball?”
- Make eye contact. This lets your little one know you are tuned into them and they have your full attention.
Listening to your baby babble is entertaining and adorable. But babbling also serves an important purpose in their overall language development.
Coming before their first words, babbling often starts around 4 to 6 months of age and continues through the first year.
You can encourage it by conversing with your baby, even though neither one of you has any idea what the other is saying, and exposing your baby to language in all its forms, including reading and singing.