Baby Talk: From ABC’s To “Yes” And “Please”, And Everything In Between
Talking is a huge, exciting milestone for your little one. From newborn coos and grunts, to infant babbling, to your baby’s first words and your toddler’s first sentences, you might be wondering what kind of timeline most kids follow when it comes to speech. During your child’s first three years of life, your child’s brain is rapidly developing and working on the foundations for complex speech. Learning to recognize your baby’s unique patterns and speech journey will allow you to ensure that your little one will meet all her speech milestones as she grows!
Newborn “speech,” 0-3 months:
Although newborn noises do not resemble true speech, newborns can communicate through a variety of grunts, coos, cries, and squeals! From birth, your baby is equipped for communication. As your baby grows, you will learn to interpret the differences in her cries and what she needs, imitate her silly noises, and learn the difference between sounds that communicate happiness, sleepiness, hunger, or pain. Just because newborn babies cannot use real words, don’t count them out for conversation! The more you talk, read, sing, and narrate the world to your baby, the more she’ll be able to pick up on the foundations of speech.
Infant “speech,” 3-6 months:
By 3-6 months, your baby’s hearing has matured significantly. Your baby might stare at you as you talk, and turn his head toward voices or noises that interest him. You might notice that your baby prefers Mom and Dad’s voice over the voices of strangers. Your baby can also appreciate music, especially sounds that are familiar to him from his time in the womb! If you listened to a certain song or read a certain book to your baby while you were pregnant, continue to do so after your little one is born. Expose your baby to lots of different sounds (of course, not too loud and startling!) and talk to your baby often. Be sure to make good eye contact when you talk to your baby, and give him a chance to respond with a smile or a coo. By six months of age, your baby will probably begin making a wide variety of sounds and putting more complex sounds together.
Infant “speech,” 6-9 months:
By six months of age, your baby’s original grunts and coos turn into standard baby babbling. Two-syllable vocalizations are common and may resemble real words, such as “mama,” “dada,” and “baba.” Around this time, most babies have learned to recognize their name and turn to face whoever is speaking to them. Babies between six and nine months of age can also pick up on verbal and facial cues to help them decipher the meaning of adult speech. Babies can tell whether your facial expression or tone of voice indicates that you’re happy, sad, worried, or confused - and they can often mimic these cues to communicate their mood back to you. Your baby’s babbling might resemble true words at this point (“mama” for a mother or “baba” for a bottle), but many babies at this stage are merely playing with their vocal abilities and not using real speech just yet.
Infant “speech,” 9-12 months:
At this age, your baby begins to understand a wide range of words and meanings. The more you speak to your baby, read to her, and play with her, the more her understanding of language will blossom and grow. Babies at this stage will begin to use a larger variety of consonant sounds and different intonations as they pick up on more speech patterns. Your baby might try to mimic your facial expressions or tone of voice when you talk. Your baby will continue to babble and observe your responses to her different noises and sounds. At this stage, babies can understand much more than they can say.
Toddler talk, 12-18 months:
Most babies and toddlers can say a handful of short, two-syllable words at this age. “Mama” and “dada” are two commonly-used words for young toddlers, and at this age they are able to connect words to their meanings instead of merely babbling. Your toddler will also be able to respond to your questions or commands, but be sure to keep your speech short and simple. This is a great time to enrich your child’s vocabulary by teaching baby sign language as well, especially signs that relate to eating or other common daily activities.
Toddler talk, 18-24 months:
By this age, children have built up a small vocabulary and can understand a large amount of what you say. Your child should be able to point to objects, people, or parts of the body when asked to. Toddlers can also mimic speech fairly well at this age, and you might find your child repeating random words he hears you say! The more you speak in short, clear, direct sentences, the easier it will be for your child to understand you and respond. Even if your child cannot pronounce a word correctly at this age, count it as a word if you can understand what he means and he uses it in the correct context consistently. “Words” can include sign language and animal sounds, too!
Toddler talk, age 2:
By age 2, your little one should be able to communicate using short, 2-4 word phrases and sentences. A typical toddler sentence might sound like “Daddy bye-bye” or “more milk” or “no ball.” At this age, kids can understand more abstract concepts such as possession and may say “mine” frequently. Most 2-year-olds have a vocabulary of 50 or more words and can use 2-word sentences. At this age, your child’s pediatrician might suggest you get your child evaluated for speech therapy if she seems to be behind other children her age.
Toddler talk, age 3:
At age 3, your child can use sentences in meaningful ways to communicate with others. Their vocabulary expands rapidly as they pick up on new words and ideas, especially if they attend daycare or preschool. Your child might understand and use spatial concepts such as “the dog is out” or “the red crayon is down.” Your child should also be able to communicate about and assign words to his emotions. At this stage, many children begin make-believe play and might pretend like a toy or stuffed animal is talking to them. A typical 3-year-old knows over 200 words and can use 3-4 word sentences. As a parent, you should also be able to tell what your child is saying most of the time, as his speech becomes clearer. Many children recognize and can name the letters of the alphabet at age 3.
Keep in mind that all babies grow and develop at different paces, so don’t be alarmed if your little one seems a little ahead or behind these milestone ages. Be sure to bring up any concerns with your child’s pediatrician. Remember, the best way to help your baby’s language development is to continually spend time talking, reading, and singing together!
Parenting is awesome. Sleep is overrated. Every day is an adventure.
Meet Our KeaMommy Contributor: Kaitlyn Torrez
I’m Kaitlyn Torrez, from the San Francisco Bay Area. I live with my husband and two children, Roman and Logan. I’m a former preschool teacher, currently enjoying being a stay at home mom. I love all things writing, coffee, and chocolate. In my free time, I enjoy reading, blogging, and working out.