When Do Babies Start Talking?
Few baby milestones are as thrilling as your child’s first words. The words sound just plain adorable, for one thing, but the fact that your little one can start to verbally express her wants and needs is a huge accomplishment for both of you.
Find out when you might hear your baby say her first words, what some typical language development milestones are for babies, and what you can do to help encourage your baby to start talking.
When Do Babies Say Their First Words?
First words and other speech and language milestones occur at widely varying times for different children, and your little one will progress at her own pace. As a general guideline, a baby might say her first few words close to her first birthday.
Then, in your baby’s second year, her vocabulary may expand slowly in the beginning, and pick up toward the end. By the end of this second year, many (but not all) babies may be able to say dozens of words and put together two words to make a sentence.
How Do Babies Learn to Say Their First Words?
Even before your baby begins to talk (talking is what experts refer to as expressive language), she understands more than you think (understanding is known as receptive language). She's also communicating effectively in a number of ways: She cries to let you know she’s hungry, coos when she’s happy, points at a toy she wants, or turns her face at a food he doesn’t like.
This type of gestural and vocal communication lays the groundwork for the development of speech and language.
Babies learn to talk by listening to you and others talking. Babies prefer listening to the human voice over other sounds, and your baby will especially love the sound of your voice, because it’s the most comforting for her.
Generally, babies prefer high-pitched voices. This is why you might find yourself talking to your baby in a higher pitch than you would when speaking to adults. This higher pitch, in addition to exaggerated pronunciation and playful facial expressions you probably use, captures your baby’s attention and also contributes to helping develop her speech and language skills.
What Are a Baby’s Talking Milestones?
Below you will find some of the important language development milestones grouped by broad age ranges.
Keep in mind that these aren't set in stone. You may see your baby or toddler reach certain speech and language milestones earlier or later than what's described here. If you're ever uncertain about whether your little one is on track, or have any questions about your child's development, reach out to your baby's healthcare provider.
Language Development Milestones: 1- to 3-Month-Old Babies
When your baby is at least a month old, she may be able to recognize your voice, whether or not you're in the same room. Smiling and gurgling at you when she sees your face indicates that she realizes these facial expressions and sounds are a way to engage with you.
Around 2 months of age, your baby may start cooing and producing sounds like “ah-ah-ah” or “ooh-ooh-ooh.” Feel free to imitate her by repeating these sounds while also adding some simple words, as this engages your little one in a two-way “conversation.”
Language Development Milestones: 4- to 7-Month-Old Babies
She'll also be attuned to your voice as you go about your daily routine, and will be learning from your voice when you're going to feed her or change her, or take her for a stroller ride.
It may take a year or more for you to be able to interpret your baby's babbling, but keep in mind that she can understand much of what you say to her well before she says her first words.
Language Development Milestones: 8- to 12-Month-Old Babies
Your baby's coos, gurgles, and screeches may start to be replaced by syllables like ba, da, ga, and ma. He may say something that sounds like “mama” or “dada” as he practices these syllables, and will soon realize these words have meaning when he sees your obvious excitement.
By this point your baby will likely understand a lot more than you think, even though he might not be able to communicate in more than a few, simple words.
It could be around this age when your child begins to use some recognizable words. Some babies have a vocabulary of about 2 or 3 words by the time they turn 1 year old. Keep in mind, though, that what's more likely for most children of this age is talking in a sort of gibberish that's starting to sound like comprehensible language.
Language Development Milestones: 13- to 24-Month-Olds
At this point your toddler will have a very good understanding of language. He'll know, for example, what "nap" means, which is why you might have spell this word out (or any other word you don't want him to understand) when you're talking to someone else in his hearing.
During the course of this year, your child will become more responsive to directions and requests from you, and may even put together some short two- or three-word sentences.
You no longer need to speak in a high-pitched baby voice. Go ahead and use a normal adult voice, and continue to speak to your toddler using simple words and short phrases or sentences.
Remember, however, that all children develop language skills at their own pace. This means some children won't talk that much in their second year, and may hit these milestones a little bit later.
As your child's speech is developing, he may change portions of words by substituting different letters or sounds. You may be the only one who understands his way of saying certain words. For example, he may say “wa-wa” for water. When this happens, you can reinforce your child's made-up word wa-wa with the correctly pronounced word water to help build his language skills.
How Do You Help Your Baby Start to Talk?
Ready to encourage your little one’s speech and language development? Here are some tips you can follow to help him start talking:
Get chatty. Simply talking to your baby teaches him new vocabulary and encourages his first words. Talk aloud to your little one as you go about your daily tasks, even when what you have to say seems silly (for example, “Daddy’s folding the blue socks right now!”). Provide narration when you’re in a new environment to introduce him to new words (for example, “Look at those pretty flowers in the park!”). You can also do things like name his body parts as you go about changing his diaper, or name the items you’re dressing him in.
Talk back. Follow your child’s interests and let him be your guide when deciding what to talk about. For example, if your child is staring at a dog and babbling, make this the topic of conversation and repeat the word “dog” while pointing at the pup.
Focus on routines and repetition. Daily activities such as bath time, mealtime, and diaper changing time are ideal opportunities to have the same conversations with your baby each day. During these times, he will begin to pick up on key words and phrases and associate them with the activity.
Model speech for your baby. To help your baby build language skills, speak in slow, short sentences and give him a chance to try and repeat what you’re saying when he’s ready. Help him recognize objects and words through play; for example, “Here’s your ball. Let’s hide the ball.” If your child is pointing at a ball, you can ask, “Do you want your ball?” Speaking in full sentences not only helps you confirm and understand what your child is trying to say, it also helps him understand sentence structure.
What Happens if Your Baby Doesn’t Start to Talk?
Some children develop language skills and a vocabulary at a constant rate, whereas others take a while to become talkative. A toddler of speaking age (between 1 and 2 years old) who is quiet may know just as many words as one who is talkative, but chooses not to use them. She may just be shyer and more reserved.
It might also help to know that girls develop their speech and language skills a little earlier than boys.
Still, if you feel your baby is behind in her language development, it’s best not to wait or ignore it. Instead, raise any concerns you may have with your little one’s healthcare provider.
Delays in speech and language development are very treatable. The earlier a professional sees your baby or toddler, the sooner your healthcare provider can help. Your provider may recommend your little one see a hearing specialist or a speech-language pathologist.
Although you may be eagerly awaiting your baby’s first words, it’s best to be patient; he will start talking when he’s ready. In the meantime, keep talking to him as a way to teach and encourage him. Eventually he’ll surprise you with his first words, and soon he’ll be talking and asking questions as a way of exploring the world in a whole new way.
During this time, you’ll probably need to change a lot of diapers. To make the task a bit more rewarding, download the Pampers Club app where you can get great rewards for all your diaper purchases. Then redeem the points for gifts for your baby or even yourself.
How we wrote this article The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.