All parents look forward to the day when their baby can talk and use words, such as “Mama” and “Dada.” Speech and language development is often a vital indicator of a baby’s overall healthy growth. Unlike several other developmental milestones, learning to talk is a gradual process since the baby achieves several small milestones before talking.
You may see the first signs of a baby’s speech development while they are still a newborn. Read on to learn when a baby talks, how to stimulate a baby’s speech skills, and when to be concerned about it.
How And When Will Your Baby Learn To Talk?
Babies talk well enough for most strangers to understand by the age of three years (1). It is an achievement that occurs gradually and begins when the baby is still a newborn. The baby achieves several smaller speech-related milestones, such as cooing, which ultimately leads to talking.
Since speech develops steadily, it is essential for parents to know the relevant speech-, communication-, and talking-related milestones at some notable ages of infancy and toddlerhood (2) (3).
1. By three months
- Smiles at you
- Makes cooing noises
- Looks at you when you speak to them
- Cries to indicate their needs
- Recognizes your voice
- Turns head to follow a sound or noise
2. By six months
- Babbles and gurgles while playing by themselves or with you
- Uses noises, such as grunting and squealing, to indicate their likes or dislikes
- Responds to sounds by making sounds
- Strings vowel sounds, such as “ah” and “eh”
- Says simple consonant sounds, such as “b” and “m”
3. By nine months
- Imitates sounds made by parents
- Attempts to say words they hear
- Strings simple consonant sounds, such as “Mama”
- Coos and gurgles in distinct tones, as if trying to form words
- Responds to name
4. By 12 months
- Understand simple requests
- Imitates sounds and words better
- Makes sounds with variable tones, similar to speech
- Says “Mama” and “Dada”
- Says simple words, such as “No”
5. By two years
- Attempts to put two words together to form a sentence
- Asks simple questions
- Repeats words more accurately
- Names familiar people, objects, and body parts
- Points at objects or images in a book when they are named
- Points at objects when they want it
- May say sentences with up to four words easily
- May know about 50 simple words
6. By three years
- Names nearly all familiar objects
- Understands and says pronouns, such as I, me, his, her, and mine
- Understands and says some prepositions, such as in, on, and under
- Knows the name of friends
- Knows first name, age, and gender
- Says plurals of simple words
- Converses in two to three simple sentences at a time
- Speaks well enough for most strangers to understand
How To Teach Your Baby To Talk?
Babies learn to talk on their own since their skills develop gradually. Nevertheless, parents can encourage their baby to talk in an age-appropriate manner in the following ways (4).
1. Talk to them
Since babies are receptive to your voice and language from an early age, it is recommended to talk to them as much as possible. Chat with them while bathing or changing their diapers. Talking to them with animated actions and expressions also helps you capture their attention. Remember to respond to the baby when they try to talk back.
2. Sing songs and rhymes
Babies enjoy songs and rhymes. It is advisable to sing to keep their attention and also encourage them to coo or babble with your singing. Singing rhymes also helps them learn new words and stimulates them to recollect the rhyme as they grow older.
3. Read to them from a very early age
Reading to your baby from an early age has many benefits. For instance, it helps in their cognitive development, helps you develop a special bond with them, improves their imagination and creativity, and sets the foundation for their speech and language skills (5).
Picture books work the best for babies and toddlers. Point to the illustrations in the book and name them. Older babies and toddlers can be asked to point at illustrations when you name them.
4. Repeat words
When you talk to your baby, the chances are that they will respond with coos, gurgles, and other sounds. Repeat the sounds and communicate with them. If your baby is trying to imitate a word that you said, repeat the word.
5. Allow your baby to respond
Give the baby adequate time to respond during a conversation. Younger babies could take time to comprehend your words and respond. Maintain eye contact while you wait for them to respond so that the baby stays interested in the conversation (6).
6. Speak in simple language
Speak short and simple sentences to encourage the baby to talk. For instance, you may say phrases such as “Food time, “Pick up toys,” “Kick the ball,” and “Drink your milk.” You may also use about 20 simple words such as “mama,” “dada,” “eat,” and “play.” Point out to the objects or persons when saying their names.
7. Use interactive toys and games
You may use interactive toys, such as toys with sound effects and recorded voices, to encourage a baby to talk. Playtime can also be made fun and imaginative by using relevant phrases during role-play. For instance, you may hold a cat- and dog-shaped toy and say, “The dog said woof, and the cat said meow.”
Several interactive books are also available in the market. These books come with a sound module, which can narrate short sentences or provide relevant sound effects. Interactive games that involve talking, such as peek-a-boo or treasure hunt, could also be a good choice (7).
8. Describe objects and activities
Take the opportunity to speak to your baby even when you are occupied with the household chores. Describe what you are doing while your baby is alert. For instance, if you are folding clothes while the baby is in the crib, describe your work to the baby. Babies pay attention to parents’ voices, and they are likely to understand that you are communicating with them even if they do not understand the words yet.
9. Use facial expressions and gestures
Be expressive when you talk to your baby. Expressions and gestures are forms of non-verbal communication that babies usually understand first. The use of expressions and gestures along with words could make it easier for a baby to understand the meaning and intent of your words. For instance, when saying something jovial, make a funny expression to make it easier for the baby to understand that the words or phrases are light-hearted (8).
What If Your Baby Is Not Talking?
A toddler could be a late talker if they are between 18 and 30 months old and understand language (words, requests, and instructions) but have a poor vocabulary or struggle with spoken language (9). A late talker usually does not display any developmental delay or regression and has good motor, cognitive, and social skills.
Give your toddler time since many children catch up with their peers eventually. Speak to a pediatrician or pediatric speech therapist if your toddler struggles to speak appropriately even after the age of 30 months. You may also consult a doctor if the child has other developmental problems, such as poor communication, social, and cognitive skills for their age.
Every developmental milestone of a baby is exciting to the parents, including talking. It takes time for a baby to learn a language and incorporate relevant speech skills to use words and phrases to express themselves. Invest time in practice through play and activities. If you are concerned about your baby’s ability to talk, speak to a pediatrician to determine any underlying cause.