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when do babies start talking

When holding your baby in your arms for the first time, it’s incredible to think that your little bundle of joy will one day grow up to be a walking, talking human being! Even more extraordinary is that those language skills are being developed from birth at a rapid pace.

Since language plays a crucial role in expressing ourselves, it’s only natural that a baby’s first words are one of the most exciting developmental milestones for parents. So, when can you expect your baby to say “mama” or “dada” for the first time?

Answering the question of when do babies start talking is problematic considering that all babies are unique. However, most babies start talking between 10 to 14 months of age.

When Do Babies Start Talking + How To Encourage Your Baby To Talk

But, while some babies are eager to use their new verbal skills, other babies like to keep their parents on their toes and might not talk until after their first birthday!

That said if your child isn’t meeting important speech milestones and you believe there’s something wrong, get in touch with your pediatrician.

If the doctor determines your child’s language development isn’t up to par with his age group, you’ll likely be referred to a speech-language pathologist.

When Do Babies Start Talking?

Few things are as magical as hearing your little one utter his very first words. But, as language development is a slow and steady process, it might take a while to hear “mama” or “dada” for the very first time.

The first communication skills a baby develops are called receptive language skills, which refer to a child’s ability to understand language. For example, a child might not be able to say “put your shoes on” but understand what it means when he is told to do so.

Expressive language skills are needed to produce language and communicate, making them the key to developmental milestones such as learning how to talk.

Most babies say their first word when they’re 10 to 14 months old. Some start using their first words even earlier, while others might wait until they’re 18 months old.

The question is, when do babies start talking in sentences? Typically, by two years of age, most toddlers can put two words together to make a simple sentence.

If you’re wondering when do babies start talking clearly, this also depends on the individual child. Still, most toddlers between the ages of two and three have improved their language skills to the point where they can be easily understood.

Whether your child starts talking when he’s 12 or 16 months old, there’s no need for concern. This is still well within the normal range of a child’s language development, and some babies are just more talkative than others!

Language Development Milestones

From a very young age, babies make different sounds to indicate their wishes or needs. Below are some of the most critical language milestones for babies and toddlers:

  • Cooing and gurgling by two months.
  • Babbling and imitating other sounds by four months.
  • Using vowels and consonants and recognizing and responding to the sound of his name by six months.
  • Understands the meaning of “no” and starting to use words like “mama” by nine months.
  • Saying words like “dada” or “mama” can change his tone when talking by 12 months.
  • Knows how to say a couple of words and say “no” by 18 months.

When To Be Concerned

Many parents get anxious when they notice their baby isn’t developing his verbal skills as quickly as other children in his age group. You may be anxiously awaiting your baby’s first word and trying all the tricks in the book to get him interested in talking, but to no avail.

When you ask: When do babies start talking? Most people will tell you: It depends! And that’s mostly true. Some babies love to talk from an early age, while others take their time.

What’s more, there are many parents (myself included) who had kids that didn’t show any interest in talking at 12 months, and they’ll tell you that their kids grew up perfectly healthy and are talking just fine.

However, there comes the point when you should consider talking to your pediatrician about your little one’s lack of interest in speaking, especially if your child is between 18 and 30 months of age.

Here are some warning signs that might point to a speech or language problem:

  • Your baby is older than 9 months and doesn’t respond when someone says his name.
  • Doesn’t comprehend the meaning of simple words like “bye-bye” by 15 months of age.
  • By 16 months, your toddler still isn’t using single words.
  • By 18 months, your toddler doesn’t know how to say at least 10 different words.
  • Before his second birthday, he doesn’t know to follow and respond to simple directions.
  • If you have a two-year-old, he should know how to make two-word sentences, point to different parts of his body, and shouldn’t be babbling a lot.

A speech-language pathologist (SLP) will be able to assess your child better and compare his speech development to his peers. Make sure you let them know of any specific issues you have noticed in your child’s speech, especially if your child has older siblings whose language skills developed at an expected rate.

Some of the causes of language and speech delay include:

I also must emphasize the importance of listening to your gut and asking to see an SLP even if your pediatrician says there’s nothing wrong with your child’s language skills.

You know your child best, and if there’s a voice in the back of your head that’s telling you something is off, then don’t hesitate to insist on being referred to an SLP. The best-case scenario is that they tell you everything is okay, so you have nothing to lose!

5 Ways To Encourage Your Baby To Talk

Since talking is such an essential skill for kids to master, parents and caregivers need to play a vital role in teaching their children new words and encouraging them to talk.

Although the matter of when do babies start talking largely depends on the individual child, there are still things you can do to help them master that skill sooner.

1. Talk to your baby

Although it seems self-explanatory, talking to your baby (even though he can’t respond or understand you yet) is essential to developing your baby’s language skills.

Even before your baby’s first birthday, try to talk to him as much as possible, especially during everyday activities such as dressing, changing his diaper, and meals. When you go outside, point out trees, cars, buildings, and other people.

2. Read books

It’s never too soon to introduce your little one to reading! Try to make it a daily habit but don’t insist on finishing a book if your baby isn’t interested – what is important is to point to the illustrations, describe them, and make it a fun bonding experience.

3. Make eye contact

At some point, your baby will start responding to your questions. Although these answers might not contain real words yet, the coos and babbles will, in time, become actual words.

When your baby responds to you using vocalization, show him that you’re paying close attention by making eye contact and giving him a big smile.

4. Sing songs

Babies love music, especially if mom or dad is singing to them. Don’t underestimate the power of fun nursery rhymes, as your child will soon show an interest in singing along!

5. Limit screen time

A 2019 study found a link between the delay of expressive speech in 18-month-olds and the use of mobile media devices, meaning that it’s one of your responsibilities as a father or as a mother to limit the amount of time your baby spends in front of a screen, even if the content is labeled as educational.

Although it’s nearly impossible to escape screens these days, it’s better to talk directly to your baby rather than letting him watch YouTube videos for hours and hoping that will do the trick.

Should You Use Baby Talk?

If you want to start an argument with fellow parents, ask them whether baby talk is good or bad and watch as the discussion explodes in seconds!

All jokes aside, there’s a lot more nuance to talking to a baby in a sing-song voice while using simple words than you might think.

When a baby learns how to talk, parents should try to speak slowly, employ a higher pitch, and emphasize one word at a time. As your little talker improves his speech, you can speak quicker as well. And always use proper grammar!

This talking method that relies on using a higher pitch and slower speech is also known as ‘parentese’, and it’s different from baby talk in the sense that you’re still using proper words and grammar.

The Bottom Line

Now that you know the answer to when do babies start talking, feel free to employ any of the strategies listed above to ensure your baby’s rapidly developing communication skills can grow at a healthy pace.

Don’t be afraid to use ‘parentese,’ either, since speaking in a higher pitch and using simple words will benefit your child. As his verbal skills become more advanced, you can start speaking in a more “grown-up” voice.

Although most children who start talking later than their peers grow up to be perfectly healthy, speech delays can also be caused by more serious conditions.

That’s why it’s so important to visit an SLP who’ll be able to determine the root cause of your child’s language issues and recommend the proper treatment plan.

References:

Van den Heuvel, M., Ma, J., Borkhoff, C. M., Koroshegyi, C., Dai, D., Parkin, P. C., Maguire, J. L., Birken, C. S., & TARGet Kids! Collaboration (2019). Mobile Media Device Use is Associated with Expressive Language Delay in 18-Month-Old Children. Journal of developmental and behavioral pediatrics: JDBP, 40(2), 99–104.

Emma Martinez

Emma Martinez is a midwife with more than five years of experience. Providing care and advice to all new moms is what she does best, and she's passionate about educating women about their health. As a mom herself, she's very familiar with the emotional rollercoaster motherhood brings, and she'll hold your hand every step of the way. You can read her advice on Find Your Mom Tribe or catch up on Facebook and Pinterest.

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