Look Who's Talking! - When will my baby talk?
Hearing your child’s first word(s) is a pivotal and momentous time for every mom and dad. So it’s only natural to wonder when your child will begin to talk. Speech-language pathologists, like myself, are commonly asked, by both new and seasoned parents, “Why isn’t my child talking yet?” This is most certainly a valid question but doesn’t always have a simple answer. Let’s delve in!
First, it is extremely important to know that the understanding of language is the foundation for developing expressive language skills. Parents can follow general milestones as a guide to determine if your child is on the right track. However, every child will develop language at their own pace.
Before your child starts talking, they will vocalize and experiment with their voice and oral articulators (lips, tongue, hard/soft palate, mandible). They will make a variety of sounds via cooing, growling, and singing a combination of vowels and consonants. Those sounds will soon string together to sound like words but will likely have no true meaning. Eventually, those sounds start to transform into words with meaning. This is the moment moms and dads cherish most! Here are some general communication milestones to follow:
Birth - 3 Months:
Making cooing sounds
Cries differ for varying needs
4 - 6 Months:
Coos and babbles
Makes speech-like babbling sounds, e.g. pa, ba, & mi
Makes sounds when happy or upset
7 Months - 1 year:
Babbles long strings of sounds (e.g.., babababa, mimi)
Uses sounds and gestures to get attention (e.g.., waving hi/bye, shaking head “no,” reaching for “up”)
Points and shows objects to others
Imitates different speech sounds
Says 1 or 2 words (e.g.. hi, mama, dada, dog) - sounds may be unclear
So when do babies start talking?
“Talking” is the attempt to express oneself using words with meaning - words used appropriately in context (i.e. pointing to a bottle and saying “baba”). Babies start talking anywhere between 9 and 14 months. Some babies don’t say a recognizable word until about 18 months, while others begin to communicate in words or word sounds (e.g. “ba-ba” for bottle or bye-bye) as early as 7 months-old. By 12 months, children should have approximately 2 to 6 words, not including mama & dada. Children 1 to 2 years-old should begin using two-word phrases. By age 3 to 4 years old, a child should be able to combine 3 to 4 word phrases. He/she should also begin asking simple questions (e.g.., Where is Mommy?). Vocabulary development is dependent on exposure to language, life experiences, reading and education. Below is a chart that illustrates an approximation of the number of words a child should be producing by age.
What Can Parents Do To Help Develop Their Child’s Language?
If you are having concerns about your child’s speech-language development, consult with your pediatrician and/or a speech-language pathologist. Ruling out any underlying issues is vital before diagnosing speech - language delays. Have your child's hearing checked if he/she is not attending to noise or when being spoken to. Check to see if your child has ear infections that may affect how he/she hears speech and environmental sounds. Pay attention to your child’s use of pre-verbal communication (eye gaze, pointing, gestures, facial expression and body language), as pre-verbal communication is vital to the development of language.
It is also important to continuously talk to your child, even if they aren’t responding verbally yet. As the saying goes, children are like sponges; they learn language through YOU! Comment on your surroundings and actions throughout the day. (e.g., “Mommy is brushing your hair;” “The umbrella is wet” ; “Look at the red fire truck"). Talk about where you go, what you do there, as well as who and what you see. Teach animal and object sounds (e.g., car says beep-beep). While engaging in play, use simple toys and realistic objects in different ways as you model words and phrases with repetitions. Sing nursery rhymes and read books while identifying and asking your little one to point to pictures in the book. Ask open ended questions and provide choice cues between two objects (e.g.. during snack time “Do you want bananas or applesauce?” This will provide increased opportunities for expressive language development.
Most importantly, despite the standards, unless there is a significant delay or concern, give your child time to develop speech sounds and language. Continue to constantly expose them to language in various contexts, while understanding that every child develops at their own unique pace - some faster or later than others.