When do Babies Start Talking?

Few baby milestones are as thrilling as your child’s first words, so it’s no wonder that you’re eager to know when your baby will start talking. Read on to learn about the stages of your baby learning to talk, from babbling to those first words and beyond.

When Do Babies Say Their First Words?

It’s impossible to know exactly when, but sooner or later – usually around your baby’s first birthday – two or three baby words may start to emerge from all the babbling. Your baby’s first words might be ‘ma-ma’ or ‘da-da’ for example, but it’s also common for these first words to include something else like the name of a family pet, a familiar object like ‘drink’ or a favourite toy. Around this time, much of your child’s communication will still be babbling or other cues like laughing, crying, pushing and pointing, but your baby will probably understand much more than you think, and he or she will be learning new words from one week to the next, opening up a whole new form of communication for your little one.

When Do Babies Start Learning to Talk?

Your baby starts learning to talk earlier than you might think, but it takes time to build up a vocabulary and develop the muscles necessary for forming words. Below are some of the stages of learning to talk, with the approximate ages when your child might reach them. Keep in mind that these aren’t set in stone. You may see your baby or toddler reach certain milestones earlier or later than what’s described here. If you’re ever uncertain about whether your baby is on track or have any questions about your child's speech development, ask your health visitor for advice.

  • Early sounds: 0-6 months

  • Babbling or ‘baby talk’: 6-12 months

  • First words: 12-18 months

  • Learning to talk: 18 months and beyond.

Your baby will start responding to speech and other cues from a very early age, and you’ll probably notice him or her paying attention to your voice and looking at your face. Even your newborn baby makes a variety of different noises – like crying, sighing, burping – to express different things – like hunger, discomfort or contentment. The sucking noises, burps and contented murmurings you hear when your baby is feeding, for example, all help your infant learn how to control the air passing over his or her vocal cords. Sometime between 2 and 4 months old, your child might start reacting to your voice – perhaps crying if you make a sudden loud exclamation or gurgling with delight if you make a sound your baby finds funny. The sounds your baby makes at this stage may not be intelligible, but they’re still important – your baby is already learning how to control the flow of air from his or her lungs and starting to flex those little vocal cords. As your little one gets better at this, the repertoire of sounds will start to expand with a variety of ‘cooing’ noises. Besides being unbelievably cute, this ‘cooing’ marks an important milestone: Your baby is developing the muscles needed for speech. A bit later, your infant may also start experimenting with using his or her lips to make different sounds.

When Do Babies Start Babbling?

Babies often enjoy repeating the same sounds over and over again. This kind of ‘babbling’ or ‘baby talk’ may sound similar to speech, with rising and falling intonation as your child experiments with his or her voice. Babbling often starts sometime after around 6 months of age, when your baby learns to put different sounds together to make ‘sentences’ – for example by combining vowel sounds like ‘ooh’ or ‘aah’ combined with a consonant (a hard sound, like ‘k’ or ‘m’) to make a ‘ka-ka’ or ‘ma-ma’ sound. But that’s not all that’s going on: At around 6 to 9 months old your baby will start to understand things you say in certain situations. For example, your child may now respond to his or her name or wave if you say bye-bye.

When Do Babies Start Speaking Clearly?

It’s difficult to define ‘clearly’, as your child’s speech and pronunciation will continue to improve for months and years to come. However, after around 18 months your toddler may be using an average of 10 to 20 baby words that you will understand. Don’t get hung up on this range though, your little one may have more or fewer words in his or her repertoire, and some words he or she may say more ‘clearly’ than others. This is normal for children this age so don’t worry: You’ll understand each other, and that’s the main thing for now. As your child approaches the stage of toddlerhood known as the ‘terrible twos’ you won’t be surprised to hear that he or she may already be saying ‘no’ and ‘mine’ clearly enough! During this new stage of learning, your baby could start to put words together to make phrases, like ‘all gone’ or ‘bedtime’. There will still be plenty of babbling for a while yet, but the number of meaningful words or short phrases will increase over time. On average, your child might start talking in simple sentences from around 2 years old. Remember, however, that all children develop language skills at their own pace. This means some won’t talk that much in their second year and may hit these milestones a little bit later.

How Do You Help Your Baby Learn to Talk?

Ready to encourage your child’s speech and language development? Here are just a few of the ways you can help your baby start talking (or get better at it) at different ages:

0 to 6 months

  • Get in close. Babies love faces – and especially yours – so hold your baby and look at him or her from close range while talking.

  • Keep up a running commentary. As you go through your daily routine of nappy changes, feeds and baths, chat about what you’re doing.

  • Sing to your baby. This is a great way of bonding while exposing your little one to the rhythms of speech right from the start.

  • Copy sounds that your baby makes. Repeating sounds to your baby can help listening skills and teach him or her about taking turns in conversation.

6 to 12 months

  • Play games. Games like Peek-a-Boo and Round and Round the Garden are a fun way of grabbing your baby’s attention and improving listening and turn-taking skills.

  • Point things out. Introduce new words by naming things that you see as you point at them. For example: ‘Look, a bird’ or ‘There’s the little doggy’.

  • Open a book. There are plenty of baby books with just pictures, but even a story book aimed at older children will do: Just talk to your baby about what you can see on the page.

12 to 18 months

  • Demonstrate the right way to say words. If your child gets a word wrong, let him or her know the proper way to say it, but without criticising or correcting. For example, if your toddler says ‘po’ instead of ‘potty, say something positive like ‘You want to use the potty? Well done for telling me!’

  • Double up on new words by offering choices. Why teach one new word when you can introduce two at the same time? Just offer alternatives whenever you can. For instance, when it’s time for a snack say: ‘Would you like a pear or a banana?’ while holding both in your hands.

  • Try out some action songs. Doing the actions while singing songs like Incy-Wincy Spider or The Wheels on the Bus helps your child remember words and phrases more easily.

18 months and beyond

  • Practice simple instructions. By now your toddler can usually understand simple instructions like ‘Open the box’ or ‘Get your blanket’.

  • Repeat words to make them stick. Using the same word several times in different sentences can make it easier for your child to remember. Here’s an example: ‘Do you want to wear a hat?’ ‘What about this yellow hat?’ ‘Wow, that pretty hat really suits you!’

  • Ask where things are. Ask your child to point to his or her nose, foot, ears etc. – or other things around the house – using sentences that start with ‘Where’s your...’ or ‘Where’s the...’

  • Help with sentence building. Babies usually start putting words together to make sentences sometime around 2 years of age. You can help this along by filling in the gaps: If your child says an incomplete sentence like ‘eat toast’, say something like: ‘That’s right, we are eating toast’.

What Happens if Your Baby Doesn’t Start to Talk?

Some children develop language skills and a vocabulary at a constant rate, whereas others take a while to become talkative. A toddler who is quiet may know just as many words as one who is talkative but chooses not to use them. It may just be the case that your baby is a little shyer and more reserved. It’s also worth knowing that, on average, twins will reach their language milestones about six months later than single babies when it comes to learning to talk. Still, if you feel your baby is behind in her language development or could have problem with speech or language, it’s best not to wait or ignore it. Raise any concerns you may have with your health visitor .

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

  • The average age for babies to talk varies a lot, but you might hear the first meaningful word or two sometime after the age of 12 months. Some babies start talking a little earlier or later than others, so try not to compare your own child with anyone else’s. Your little one will start talking when he or she is ready.

  • On average, 1-year-old babies can say 2 or 3 words clearly, but children differ a lot in this respect: Some pick up their first words a bit earlier, while others may not start talking until later.

The Bottom Line

Although you may be eagerly awaiting your baby’s first words, it’s best to be patient. Like many of your baby’s development milestones, starting to talk doesn’t happen overnight and may not happen when you expect it will. Eventually your little one will surprise you with those first baby words, and before you know it, he or she will be talking and asking questions as a way of exploring the world in a whole new way. In fact, speech will soon be such a big part of your child’s personality that later you may find it hard to imagine what it was like before he or she could talk.

How we wrote this article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the National Health Service (NHS). You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.