Learning to talk is a skill that your baby begins working on before they’re even born. They listen to us from within the womb eventually learning to distinguish their mother’s voice. Once they’re born they’re comforted by the familiarity of their mother’s voice, giving them vital reassurance in those unsettling first days outside the womb. Now that they’re born, it’s time for them to start communicating too. Crying is their first way of talking to us to let us know that they need something. They are born understanding that their cry is met with the comforting sound of their mother’s voice. From there, their brain is rapidly learning about how to communicate with the world around them, and speech is the most complicated but important part of that communication.
What to expect from 0-6 months
- Month 1 – Your newborn will mostly cry as their form of communication, however, they may also coo and gaze at you in interest. Towards the end of the first month, your baby might begin to smile.
- Month 2 – They begin to be aware of their own voice, making gurgling sounds, more cooing and beginning to squeal. They will begin to smile back when you smile at them and make eye contact.
- Month 3 – They begin to make extended vowel sounds like “ah”, they begin laughing and have different cries for different needs.
- Month 4 – They learn to change the shape of their mouth to modify sounds and learn to sputter and laugh louder.
- Month 5 – Baby will start to babble, making sounds like “bababa” and will try to mimic sounds that others make.
- Month 6 – Babbling becomes more varied, producing sounds like “mama” and “dada” – many people will regard this babbling as their baby’s first words. Although, your baby may not actually address their father as “dada” until they’re about 8 months old and they start to understand how to use the word properly.
Speak to your doctor if your baby is not vocalising or responding to sounds at 6 months.
Speech from 6 to 12 months
Now that your baby has mastered the fundamentals of communication, they’ll be perfecting their babbling, learning new sounds and enjoying the responses they get from others. Your baby will begin to understand words like “no” and they will communicate using gestures like pointing and raising their arms to say “pick me up”. By the time your baby is 1 year old, they will say between 1 and 3 words, but understand many more.
Speech from 1 to 2 years old
Your baby’s vocabulary begins to grow in their second year of life. Around 18 months old you can expect your baby to have around 15 words. These words may be mumbled but they shouldn’t be random sounds, for example they might attempt to say “ball” while pointing to a ball. By the age of 2, most babies will have around 50 words in their vocabulary and be able to form 2-word sentences.
How to encourage speech development
- Increase the amount of words you say in a day. Narrate your daily tasks and have conversations with your baby to increase the number of words they hear in a day.
- Read to them. Books will contain a variety of words which wouldn’t usually come up in our everyday language.
- Turn off the TV, tablets, etc as these will decrease the amount of words exchanged throughout the day.
- Encourage them to speak by giving them options, for example “what coat would you like to wear, red or blue?”
- Don’t speak for them. You may know what your child is looking for with just a point or grunt, but encourage them to say the word, for example, “do you want the banana? Can you try to say banana?”
- Sing nursery rhymes together, the melody will help your child to learn the words.
Get advice from your doctor if you’re concerned about your baby’s speech.