Before babies learn to talk in a real language -- English, say, or Spanish -- they babble and coo, playing with sound. That's baby talk, and baby talk sounds similar the world over.
But when will you hear your baby's first words? Critical milestones for a baby learning to talk happen in the first three years of life, when a baby's brain is rapidly developing. During that time, your baby's speech development depends on your "baby talk" skills as well as your baby's.
The first "baby talk" is nonverbal and happens soon after birth. Your baby smiles, grimaces, cries, and squirms to express a range of emotions and physical needs, from fear and hunger to frustration and sensory overload. Good parents learn to listen and interpret their baby's different cries.
Just when your baby will say those magical first words varies greatly from individual baby to individual baby. But if your baby misses any of the following milestones in speech development, talk to your pediatrician or family doctor about your concerns.
Baby Talk Milestones
Baby talk at 3 months. At 3 months, your baby listens to your voice, watches your face as you talk, and turns toward other voices, sounds, and music that can be heard around the home. Many infants prefer a woman's voice over a man's. Many also prefer voices and music they heard while they were still in the womb. By the end of three months, babies begin "cooing" -- a happy, gentle, repetitive, sing-song vocalization.
Baby talk at 6 months. At 6 months, your baby begins babbling with different sounds. For example, your baby may say "ba-ba" or "da-da." By the end of the sixth or seventh month, babies respond to their own names, recognize their native language, and use their tone of voice to tell you they're happy or upset. Some eager parents interpret a string of "da-da" babbles as their baby's first words -- "daddy!" But babbling at this age is usually still made up of random syllables without real meaning or comprehension.
Baby talk at 9 months. After 9 months, babies can understand a few basic words like "no" and "bye-bye." They also may begin to use a wider range of consonant sounds and tones of voice.
Baby talk at 12 months. Most babies say a few simple words like "mama" and "dadda" by the end of 12 months -- and now know what they're saying. They respond to -- or at least understand, if not obey -- your short, one-step requests such as, "Please put that down."
Baby talk at 18 months. Babies at this age say up to 10 simple words and can point to people, objects, and body parts you name for them. They repeat words or sounds they hear you say, like the last word in a sentence. But they often leave off endings or beginnings of words. For example, they may say "daw" for "dog" or "noo-noo's" for "noodles."
Baby talk at 2 years. By the age of 2, babies string together a few words in short phrases of two to four words, such as "Mommy bye-bye" or "me milk." They're learning that words mean more than objects like "cup" -- they also mean abstract ideas like "mine."
Baby talk at 3 years. By the time your baby is 3, his or her vocabulary expands rapidly, and "make-believe" play spurs an understanding of symbolic and abstract language like "now," feelings like "sad," and spatial concepts like "in."