Baby Speech Development Milestones
Listening to your baby’s first words sounds so sweet to the ears! However, seldom does a baby utter the perfect word aka “Mamma” or “Papa” at the first go; speech development is a matter of many milestones. Moreover, speech and language development is not only about speaking, but also about listening and understanding. The first three years of a baby’s life are critical from this perspective. Learning a language comes to different babies at different times, some of it is an inherent trait while a significant part is about how much the baby is exposed to different sounds, speech, languages etc. Though the average age when a baby utters the first word is around 12 months, most babies learn at their own pace. Here are some general timelines of speech development to help you keep track.
1. The waaa-waaa days: 0-1 month
We associate new-borns with lots of crying and wailing. That’s because this is the only way they know how to communicate, whether it is a call for food, or a complaint about feeling stuffy. Physiologically, wailing also works up the larynx or sound box of the baby, allowing it to produce a wide tonality and pitch of sounds. This acts as a pre-cursor to learning meaningful language. It is during the first month that the baby mostly responds to soft sounds by falling asleep or quietening down. Not much of a talker, but a listener for sure!
2. The goo-goo-gaa-gaa phase: 1-3 months
This is the stage when your little one is still getting accustomed to using their lip and tongue to produce sound. Most babies produce super-cute cooing sounds, straight from the larynx. Also, your baby will start emitting a host of different sounds: squeals, babbles, vowels, growls etc. This is the phase when a baby generally starts recognizing the mother’s voice. Babies this age actively and curiously listen to the sounds around them and even respond in their own babyish cooing.
3. The ‘babble syllables’ phase: 3-9 months
The three-month milestone brings with it those cute babbles, as your baby starts experimenting with syllables, mostly vowel-sounds. These syllables are not just meaningless expressions, but are often used to express different emotions like excitement, displeasure or discomfort based on the tone. Your baby will now respond to changes in your speech tone and also to sound-making toys and music. Around 6-7 months, your baby will produce a wider range of consonant syllables such as p, m, b. Longer babbles interspersed with what seems like ‘phrases’ is a common occurrence. Hearing-wise, the baby will respond actively to sounds, for example, turning in the direction of specific sounds.
4. The ‘working towards words’ phase: 9-12 months
Now your baby is fully equipped with the basic armoury to produce his or her first word- the syllables, sounds, and usage of the lip & tongue. The kiddo must just figure out how to weave all these together in a sensible manner! Most babies would like to take on this task one step at a time. Imitating speech sounds is a great starting point, often seen at around 9 months. The next three months are an exciting learning curve, and most babies speak out their first proper word/s at around 1 year. Of course, many of these words are often not perfectly pronounced and clear, it’s work in progress towards reaching the Wow stage!
5. The ‘wow with words’ phase: 12-15 months
This is when your baby will mostly produce the first, proper, recognizable word that makes a lot of sense to you. Often, this will be something that the baby really likes, like ‘ball’ or ‘dog’- something he or she recognizes on sight and is fond of! Most babies at 15 months are able to say around 5 to 20 simple words and are able to use hand gestures to get their point across. Hearing-wise, kids in this age group generally start listening to and understanding simple instructional phrases like “Come here” or “Pick up the toy”. Your kid is sure to go wow with these wordy achievements!
6. The ‘playing with sentences’ phase: 15-24 months
The exciting word-making journey has begun, full-fledged! Enthused by the first few words, your toddler is ready to take on the world of communication. Your baby will try to master the art of listening and understanding, by recognizing names of familiar objects such body parts, people and so on. Towards the latter part of this stage, toddlers take to long, gibberish sentences that seem to make little or no sense as a whole. Worry not, this is their way of experimenting and progressing from words to logical sentences. They are just figuring out the logic along the way! By 2 years, toddlers tend to use around 30-50 real words and also weave them together into basic sentences like “Want food”. Some toddlers may go as far as to filling in nursery rhymes with a single finishing word, for example if you sing “Twinkle twinkle little”, your baby will end it with “star”. This is an exciting stage as you watch your baby graduate further in the language world!
7. The ‘soaking up sentences’ phase: 24 – 36 months
Your toddler will continue expanding his or her vocabulary, while getting acquainted with the proper usage of word-types like nouns, verbs, pronouns etc. For example, kids this age generally can string together names and actions to make complete and sensible short sentences such as “I eat now”. Your toddler will be able to reply to simple questions like name, age, gender etc. He or she will be able to recite past events as well as current happenings, albeit in short sentences. The tense may not be perfect, but that’s something he or she will pick up further on. Enjoy your little one’s newfound ability to carry out a simple conversation. And use these conversations to help your baby become a conversational master!
It is observed that girls hit these language and speech milestones earlier than boys, on average. However, nurture plays an important role, as does nature. It is therefore important to give your baby ongoing exposure to sounds, syllables and sentences and to constantly orient the baby to new experiences and interactions. Talking frequently and in varying tones, reading stories, avoiding baby talk, and meeting new people are great ways of helping your baby attain these milestones early-on. Don’t compare milestones with friends’ children, development across different skills does happen at a varied pace – even amongst siblings! If you notice any of these red flags, talk to your child’s doctor, who may refer you to a speech therapist if needed. Such trained professionals can evaluate your child’s development through spoken and hearing tests and help stimulate your child’s development through simple home activities and therapy.
So equip yourself with the right knowledge and support, and get your child raring to dive headfirst into the wonderful world of words!
About the Author: Rhucha is Mumbai-based writer and poet, travel entrepreneur, photographer and nature lover. She loves to freeze beautiful moments through her words and her lens, whether it is a wildlife expedition or a cute new born baby.
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