Babies start talking around the six-month mark, but learning language is a more complex skill to acquire. As a result, even though a child may be able to say small words at six months, such as “mama,” or “dada,” or “baba,” she may not start talking clearly or talking in full sentences until she is two years or older. Some children do not speak well until they reach the age of four. Many factors, such as support, education, environment, and even genetics can influence how fast your child begins to talk clearly.
When Do Babies Begin to Talk?
From Babbling to Talking: An Introductory Overview
One of the bigger milestones that parents watch for is when babies start to talk. Parents eagerly await their child being able to talk clearly, use words well, and speak in full sentences. Who hasn’t tried to get their child to say “mama” or “dada” as a first word? Besides walking, talking is the most anticipated milestone among parents, especially new parents.
Many experts will agree that it is never too early to begin teaching your child about language. Even while your baby is still in the womb, it is good to talk to him or her and let your baby become accustomed to your voice; this is not only a good bonding experience between the parents and the baby, but it is also a great way to get the baby to associate your voice with kindness and interest. This will help their learning ability and interest to grow later on.
Once the baby is born, talking to your baby continues this same idea. There are a couple of different ways to engage your child in working on his speech; it is good to try out the different methods a few times each, to see what your baby responds to and what she likes. The first method is simple; it is just talking to your baby. You can talk regularly, telling your baby what you are doing or what you are thinking. Many people call this way the more organic way of doing things, because it is just like having a one-sided conversation. You can also try stimulating your baby’s interest by using props. Getting your baby used to words by showing items or objects such as toys, or words and pictures on flash cards, means you are helping them to absorb the language and also allows them to observe you as you speak. Many babies will learn to imitate the sounds they hear by mimicking the way the mouth moves. I have a mom who is a speech-language pathologist, and she will often help kids learn new words by forming a child’s mouth, lips, and movement in the shape of the word. You can do similar things, by enunciating, and encouraging your child to do simple movements. At 0-3 months, many “b” sounds are easily encouraged as the bilabial sounds are among the easiest to develop. “M” sounds are also common because the baby commonly starts out with no teeth, making the “m” sound easier, even though the movement of the lips together can stump them for a bit.
During the 0-3 month period, some babies can learn several new words; however, these words will likely not be traditional or formal words. They will be more like syllables or gargles. Sounds like “ba” for bottle, for example, will indicate more of what he or she is saying. As your child grows, he will learn about how to say different sounds and make the connection between different names and objects. There is no need to worry about teaching him or feeling like a failure if he does not learn any specific words during this time. It is unlikely during this time that your baby will say words, but her sounds and her syllables will be able to give you hints as to what she wants or what she needs.
By the 3-6 mark of your baby’s first year, your baby has begun to move his legs and arms more, and lift his head and enjoy tummy time much more. This is a time where they are seeing more of the world, and they are growing into their routines. It was during this time for my children that a routine became more obvious. Routines can be a good thing, because it can really help new parents find time to structure in learning activities; however, early on in the baby’s life, routines will need to be evaluated more often as the child grows. My son, for example, did not want to have his third nap of the day after he reached the six-month mark. For my daughter, she did not enjoy tummy time unless my husband was home to play with her. Eventually, as she began crawling, she would prefer me to sit with her while she moved around.
When it comes to routines with language, at this age it can be more easy to sit the baby down in a high chair and work on his language using toys and food, or showing him objects while he is sitting. This is where some friends of mine would use flash cards, to help the baby learn new words. Others I know would play short movies, usually with songs with motions, like “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” or “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.”
As your baby gets closer to the six-month mark, it is likely that he will begin trying to sound out words. Even if he or she cannot be clear about it, it is good to encourage your child in his or her efforts. During this time, it is possible for “mama” and “dada” to come up.
When Do Babies Begin to Talk?
Between six and twelve months is when babies will start saying more words. This is the time when most experts agree that your baby will begin using words such as “mama” and “dada” and other easy words as well, usually no more than two syllables in length. During this time, infants will learn between five and ten new words, likely phrases or words they hear at home. My kids learned “kitty” very quickly, because we had two cats running around the house. Many parents will see the same things happening around their kids and their lives.
A growing pattern of progress should continue during this time. Around the eighteenth month mark, your child will begin to form sentences with two or more words. Their vocabulary and knowledge of different words will continue to grow, though it may take some time to see significant progress, depending on the level of exposure. Many parents with more than one child will find that the subsequent children are able to pick up language use more quickly. This largely results from more exposure. I know my children play together, and because of this, there is a large amount of time that they spent interacting with the same toys and places. This is another reason why several parents who put their kids in daycare will often see progress differently from parents who keep their babies at home, particularly if their child is their only child. This difference among the way parents raise kids and the environments in which they live and work is also another reason why some kids respond differently to learning language.
As your baby grows into a toddler, their command of language will reflect that. They will likely be able to identify more objects and they will begin to repeat phrases. This is where the parents become more alert when it comes to their children hearing particular phrases or family secrets, fearful that it might be repeated or brought up in the wrong context. While this prompts more caution and discreteness from parents.
Things to Watch
Since every child grows and learns at his or her own pace, and learning something as complex as language requires time, practice, and incentive, it can be difficult to determine if there is an exact time to worry. If you suspect your child has a speech problem, whether it is learning new words, or remembering old words, you may want to consult with the child’s pediatrician. Having some documentation can also help, especially in the event that your baby’s doctor will ask for specific examples or concerns. This is part of the reason many speech and communication disorders are able to be formally diagnosed between two and three years of age now.
Genetics can also offer a clue when it comes time to worry. Many people will look to their peers and their peers’ children to gauge where their kids are in terms of development. However, it is better to look at family history for milestone development, including when kids will begin to talk.
When Do Babies Begin to Talk?
A lot of things will affect your child’s ability to begin to talk and learn new words. Having a supportive home, where the parents can spend time with the baby, is a large part of that. Supportive environments can easily allow for parents to be focused on the future development of their babies, so that the parents can try out new ways to keep their children’s interests high. When kids are interested, they will learn.
When it comes to helping your baby learn to talk, the best resource you have is yourself. Surrounding the baby with people talking to him directly will help him learn how to use words to communicate with other people. Exposure to words, giving your baby a chance to mimic your words and mouth’s movements—all of this helps your baby learn to talk. There are several other things you as a parent can do to help your child learn. Many parents will sing to their children, and ask questions, keeping their attention, and using their time together to bond with simple and silly songs. It can be scary to sing to your children at first, but some kids do love it a lot. My son was not adverse to it, but my daughter just loved it. It was not long before she would try to sing along, even though she wasn’t sure of the words. She would use her voice to do the different pitches while I sang.
Books are great to introduce to children early on. This can also help with language development, and books will become more of a resource when your baby is ready to learn how to read. Just as learning how to speak is a process that can span over the first several years of your baby’s life, learning to read requires several years, too. That is part of the reason there is a strong correlation between early readers and books; getting your children to love learning and seeing you love spending the time to teach them is a valuable gift.
In addition to reading, singing, and talking, it can also be fun to take a look at the technology available to helping you and your baby develop her skills. There are several applications and technologies that will help your child engage with new words and pictures. I have known several parents who will buy games for their phones specifically for their children, in case they are needed for particular situations, such as when the child has to wait. The good news about this is that there are a lot of programs and companies that design apps for helping kids learn and play. There are several free and inexpensive learning puzzles, games, pictures, and activities available for Apple and Android products.
When it comes to growing, particularly for talking, many babies will find and settle into their own paces. Learning is different for every child, and since language is much more complex than it seems to an adult, babies talk at a variety of different times. While most babies can begin using words as early as six months, it is important to keep in mind that time, practice, and growth will all factor into your baby’s ability to speak. Over the course of the first two to four years of their lives, they will learn how to use words and language to communicate. By the time they are three years old, they will be using sentences, longer and clearer, to talk with others.
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