We’ve all been there: your little one lets out their first babbles, and you find yourself on google trying to figure out when babies start talking. What will their first word be? How will my baby learn how to talk? The bad news is that it will probably take longer than you think to have a meaningful conversation with your tot. The good news, however, is all those endless days of crying may soon come to an end and replaced with more meaningful ways of communicating through speech! And while actual talking may take a while yet, there are some things you can do to help your baby start talking. (But we’re warning you now: once they start, they won’t stop!)
Is your baby ready to talk?
Before your little one is even ready to take on the world of words, there are a few skills they need to master first. These skills, commonly known as prelinguistic skills, set the foundation for your baby long before they’re capable of saying any words. Your baby should:
- React to events in their environment (things he/she sees, hears, feels, etc.).
- Respond to people when talked to or played with.
- Take turns with you during play or interaction.
- Stay with an activity for at least 5 minutes.
- Share joint attention between you and an object.
- Appropriately play with toys (such as getting his/her doll dressed vs. using the doll as a hammer).
- Understand and follow simple commands (receptive language).
- Make purposeful vocalizations (like grunting or whining for your attention).
- Imitate what other people do or say.
- Communicate non-verbally, such as pointing or waving.
- Initiate interaction with you or others to get what they want during play.
Once your baby has mastered most of these skills (because all little ones develop differently), you can expect to start hearing some words. But while you’re waiting on and watching for these skills, try doing a few things that will help your baby develop language.
4 Ways to Encourage Baby’s Language Development
Around the two month mark, you will notice your baby experimenting with some fun new sounds like baby coos (the oooooh or aaaaah sounds). Then between ages 4-8 months old, you’ll hear those coos turn into babbles (a-ga, baabaa, maamaa).
Both cooing and babbling are essential tasks for babies to master before they’re ready to say their first words. From the day they’re born, babies begin learning all about language. From their ability to cry when they need something to their ability to understand the different tones of your voice and sounds around them, babies are constantly learning.
And guess what? YOU play a significant role in your baby’s language development! If you notice your baby isn’t babbling much, try practicing some of the following activities to help them along:
1. Get close & engage in conversation with your baby. Getting face to face with your baby allows your little one to see your facial movements and expressions as you chatter away to them.
2. Babble & pause. Engaging in baby talk (babbling) and then pausing for 5-10 secs waiting for their response is a great way to encourage them to imitate you.
3. Play around with various vocal tones. Exposing your baby to a variety of pitches in your voice not only helps them learn new sounds, but it also makes it way more fun for them to practice themselves.
4. Let baby feel your words. When babbling or talking to baby, gently place their hand on your mouth so they can physically feel the movement of your words.
Bonus: Use Signs to Help Your Baby “Talk”
The average age that babies start talking is around 10-14 months. Keep in mind that most “talking” for young babies still isn’t as fluent as some parents expect it to be. But don’t be discouraged! There are other ways you can help your little one to communicate more effectively before he can say words.
Some parents practice the habit of teaching their babies to use sign language as a form of communicating. Believe it or not, babies quickly pick up on signing starting around six months old. When I taught my son to use signs for communication, it was right around his 18-month-old mark. If there’s one thing I wish I had known sooner, it’s that you CAN teach your babies to sign at a much younger age. If you need help figuring out which signs to teach them, I found the Baby Sign Language Dictionary to be extremely helpful!
So while you’re not-so-patiently waiting for your sweet baby to start talking in earnest, keep an eye on those prelinguistic skills. And perhaps begin teaching your baby a few signs to help him communicate more effectively in the meantime!