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Baby Talk: Communicating With Your Baby

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 his 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 his or her 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."

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. He should respond to "no," to his or her 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.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Roy Benaroch, MD on August 03, 2014
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