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When Do Babies Start Talking: Milestones to Expect

Babies typically begin their journey into verbal communication with their first babbles around 4 to 6 months of age. These early sounds are the building blocks of language and a sign that they are starting to engage with the world around them. As they grow, these sounds slowly transform into recognizable words, often by the time they reach their first birthday. It is common for babies to say simple words like "dada" or "mama" at this stage, marking the thrilling moment when they start to communicate intentionally.

When Do Babies Start Talking

As infants turn into toddlers, their vocabulary expands rapidly. By the time they are 2 years old, many children can put words together to form simple sentences, understanding and being understood by those around them. This period brims with milestones, but it's important to remember that language development is a highly individual process. Some children might begin speaking later than others, which can still fall within the range of normal development.

Throughout this critical phase, parents and caregivers play a pivotal role. Engaging in frequent conversation, reading aloud, and providing a nurturing environment are all crucial steps that support a child’s language development. It's important for caregivers to monitor their progress and seek guidance if they have concerns about a child's speech development or suspect a delay. For insights into the stages of speech development and to understand what to expect at each stage, various resources are available to assist on this journey.

Understanding Baby Talk Milestones

Tracking the linguistic progression of babies offers a fascinating insight into early childhood development. This section examines the key milestones in language acquisition from the earliest sounds to the formation of words.

The Progression of Baby Sounds

Initially, babies utter cries and then coos, a precursor to more structured language skills. Around 4 to 6 months, these sounds evolve into babbling, which includes a mixture of consonant and vowel sounds. A baby learns to control their tongue and mouth to create these diverse sounds, shaping the foundations for future speech abilities.

Identifying Speech Milestones

Babies usually reach significant speech milestones by specific ages. By the time a baby is 12 months, they often say their first words. It's important to recognize these milestones, which can serve as indicators for typical speech development or alert caregivers to seek further evaluation. By 6 months, most infants demonstrate a clear progression from cooing to the more complex patterns of babbling.

The Role of Baby Babbling

Babbling is a critical stage in language milestones. It signifies a baby’s cognitive ability to experiment with sounds, learn the basic rules of language, and practice the motor skills needed for speech. By around 6 to 9 months, a baby will begin to produce strings of sounds, such as "mama" and "dada," though they may not understand their meaning until closer to 12 months. This stage is foundational, as a baby's exposure to language through babbling influences their ability to form words and understand language in context, setting the stage for the moment when babies start talking.

From Sounds to Words

As babies grow, they progress from simple cries to cooing, and then to babbling, setting the stage for their first recognizable word. This critical transition involves combining syllables and imitating the sounds they hear, ultimately leading to meaningful speech.

First Word Celebrations

A baby's first word often emerges around the 12-month mark, with common first words including "mama," "dada," and "ball." These are celebrated milestones because they represent the baby's initial foray into verbal communication. They've moved beyond coos and gurgles, making purposeful sounds that relate to their environment. Parents and caregivers can encourage this by acknowledging any attempt at words, such as excitedly responding when their child says "hi" or "dog," which helps reinforce language development.

Typical First Words:

  • Mama/Dada

  • Hi

  • Dog

  • Ball

Vocabulary Growth

Post the one-word stage, toddlers expand their vocabulary rapidly. They learn to string syllables together to form simple words. By 18 months, they may have a vocabulary of around 5 to 20 words, although this can vary significantly from child to child. Interestingly, "baby talk" from adults, characterized by exaggerated expressions and clearer pronunciation, can aid this growth by highlighting the sounds and patterns of speech. As toddlers near their second birthday, they usually start combining words into simple sentences, their grasp of basic gestures helping to convey broader meaning.

Example Vocabulary Growth:


Word Count

Language Development

12-18 months

5-20 words

Single words, recognizes names, follows simple commands

18-24 months

50-100 words

Two-word phrases, asks for common items, uses "mama," "dada" purposefully

Factors Influencing Speech Development

Early speech and language development in babies is pivotal for effective communication skills later in life. A myriad of factors can impact their progression from coos to words, and understanding these can help caregivers support their children's growth.

Hearing and Listening

Hearing is fundamental for language development; it enables infants to perceive and interpret the sounds around them. Babies often begin to focus on sounds soon after birth, and this early listening serves as a precursor to developing speech. Regular checkups with a pediatrician can help ensure a child’s hearing is normal, and any issues are addressed promptly, potentially through an early intervention program.

Children with hearing impairments or autism spectrum disorder may face challenges with speech milestones, as their impairment directly affects their ability to listen and hence communicate. Regular hearing screenings are crucial for identifying children who are at risk for developmental delays due to hearing loss.

Physical and Emotional Factors

The journey from birth to speaking involves significant physical and emotional factors that influence a child's ability to articulate words. Adequate nutrition and physical health are essential for the development of the muscles used in speech production. Emotional well-being and a supportive environment encourage children to practice and improve their speech and language.

Developmental delays in physical milestones, such as sitting or walking, might correlate with slower speech progression. If a child is not meeting their speech milestones, it might indicate a need for an assessment by a pediatrician or a speech-language pathologist, who could then refer to appropriate early intervention programs to support language acquisition.

In all cases, active engagement, such as reading aloud and frequent talking with the child, facilitates better focus and encourages children to imitate and practice sounds and words as part of their speech and language development.

Identifying and Addressing Speech Delays

Identifying speech delays early enables prompt intervention, which is crucial for effective treatment. Speech delays can impact a child's ability to communicate and engage in conversation, making it important to understand when to seek professional advice and what approaches are available for intervention.

When to Consult a Professional

Parents and caregivers should monitor a child's language acquisition closely. It is advisable to consult a speech-language pathologist if by 18 months a child does not use a minimum of 20 words, including different types of words such as nouns, verbs, and adjectives. Other signs indicating a need for professional consultation include a child who does not seem to understand simple verbal requests or is not using words to express needs or comment on their environment.

If there are concerns about a child's ability to hear, this should also prompt immediate consultation. Hearing loss or hearing impairment can contribute to speech and language delays, and distinguishing between a primary language delay and one secondary to hearing loss is essential for appropriate treatment.

Approaches to Speech Delay Intervention

Once speech delay is recognized, a variety of interventions may be applied. A speech-language pathologist will evaluate the individual child's speech and language skills to tailor an intervention plan. This evaluation may include standardized tests, language samples analysis, and hearing assessments to rule out hearing impairment as an underlying cause.

Intervention strategies often involve:

  • Parent-Child Interaction Therapy: Encouraging more effective communication through play and everyday interactions.

  • Language Stimulation: Using techniques such as modeling and expanding child's language.

  • Articulation Therapy: Addressing specific speech sound production difficulties.

  • Use of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC): Implementing tools like picture boards or speech-generating devices for children with severe speech delays.

A treatment plan will typically include a combination of these approaches and be adjusted regularly based on a child's progress towards their speech and language milestones.

Enhancing Communication Skills at Home

Engaging in specific interactive activities at home can greatly enhance a child's communication skills from an early age. These activities stimulate language development by introducing new vocabulary, sounds, and sentence structures in a nurturing environment.

Interactive Activities to Boost Language

  • Singing Songs: Incorporating music into daily routines can enhance a child's ability to recognize different intonation patterns and vowel sounds. Singing nursery rhymes and simple songs such as "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" encourages children to mimic rhythm and rhyming patterns, essential components of speech development.

  • Reading Together: Regular reading sessions introduce children to new vocabulary and grammar structures. Pointing at pictures and naming common items helps babies connect words to objects. By the age of 24 months, many children can recognize familiar stories and join in.

  • Playful Interaction: Using toys to engage a child in a game can foster language use through repetition of simple words like "ball," "doll," and "car." Parents should encourage toddlers in naming body parts during play and respond to efforts to communicate—even if it's just gurgles or coos.

  • Facial Expressions and Gestures: Children learn a lot from watching their parents' facial expressions and gestures. Smiling, frowning, and exaggerated expressions can reinforce the meaning of words such as "happy" (smiling) and "sad" (frowning).

  • Simple Commands and Phrases: Giving simple commands like "pick up the cup" and building up to two-word phrases such as "go play" supports understanding of language structure and encourages children to respond both verbally and physically.

  • Emphasizing Single Words: Saying and stressing single words connected to an action or object, like "drink" when handing over a cup or "ma-ma" when mom enters the room, helps children learn to identify and later articulate those key words.

  • Language-Rich Environment: Creating a language-rich environment where the child hears a variety of words and speech skills being used can lead to a "language explosion" where the child begins using numerous new words and forming sentences.

  • Using Body Language: Since children also pick up on non-verbal communication cues, parents can enhance their child's understanding through the use of body language paired with speech.

  • Repetition and Language Play: Consistent repetition of words and engaging in language play with rhymes and made-up words stimulates phonological awareness—a crucial step before a child begins preschool and approaches a significant baby milestone in their language journey.

Each of these methods promotes different aspects of language acquisition, from consonant sounds to the rudimentary grasp of simple phrases. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association emphasizes the importance of such enriching home environments for fostering early language development. By engaging in these activities, parents can lay a strong foundation for their child's future communication abilities.


When Do Babies Typically Start Talking?

Babies typically begin to say their first words between 9 and 14 months of age. However, the range of normal development is broad, and some babies may start talking as early as 7 months or as late as 18 months.

What Are the Early Signs of Language Development in Babies?

Should I Be Concerned If My Baby Isn't Talking Yet?

How Can I Encourage My Baby's Language Development?

Are There Differences Between Boys and Girls in Terms of Language Development?

What Role Does Exposure to Multiple Languages Play in a Baby's Language Development?

Are Late Talkers at Risk for Other Developmental Issues?

What Are the Milestones in Early Language Development?

Can Sign Language Help Communication Before Verbal Language Develops?

Should I Be Concerned If My Baby Is Speaking in Sentences Early?


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