When Do Babies Begin Talking? (Here's How It Works!)

When Do Babies Begin Talking? (Here's How It Works!)

It’s so exciting to hear your baby’s first word. While a specific first word is typically recognized by parents around 12 months, language development is not an overnight process. When babies begin communicating is actually well before they start talking!

Read on to learn more about the developmental journey of speech and language in babies.

toy rotation for toddlers
Before they start talking, toddlers will understand much of what we say to them, for example, "Put the ball in the hole."

What do babies need to start talking?

For baby to acquire speech, they need three things.

  • First, they must have healthy physical, auditory, vocal structures. These are the physical characteristics that enable speech.
  • Second, they need to be immersed in a rich language environment. They need to hear people using a variety of words. They need to see they way we talk modeled for them.
  • Third, they need motivation for talking. This is the social-emotional component. Children need people who are giving them attention, listening, and giving them time and space to respond. They need affirmation that they are being heard and that their verbalizations are welcome.

{WATCH} Before they start talking: facial expressions

In this video, you'll notice how engaged the baby is by the adult's singing. He is making eye contact and imitating the action of opening his mouth as if to join in the song. Research shows that babies look towards a human face when they hear music, which tells us that music is an inherently social experience. 

Watch how this baby attempts to communicate at just four months old.


So when do babies start talking? 

Communication actually begins well before speech.

Parents will hear the first sounds of cooing between six and 12 weeks. Cooing sounds like a series of vowels, such as "Ooooooaaaaaoo."

This evolves into babbling. We identify babbling as sounds that include consonants. It sounds like "babapapaaaa" or "dadadaaada"

Babbling happens by accident at first. Just as when a baby shakes a rattle before they understand cause and effect, they will hear the sound and you might see a look on their face that communicates, “Did I do that?” They might be surprised by the sounds they make!

Sounds are not the only forms of communication! Before a baby says their first word, they are communicating by turning head. Cooing and smiling. This social communication invites a response from those around them. 

You can support a baby's speech development by acknowledging their communication. 

"Oh, do you see the fan spinning? Isn't that cool? I see how the air is making the leaves of the plant move. Let's go take a look at the plant together."

There are two stages of babbling. First undifferentiated babbling will emerge. This is when babies make all sounds. Even deaf babies will babble this way. 

Around 6 months, babies will begin to make sounds that reflect only the sounds they are hearing around them. This means their babbling is now limited to their native language sounds. Evolving towards words, differentiated babbling sounds more conversational. 

{WATCH} An Evolution Toward Speech

In the first video, you'll hear babbling with consonants. In the second video, you'll see how it is transitioning to an imitation of the rhythms of our conversational patterns. 


When will your baby know their name?

Babies will begin to recognize their own name between six and nine months. They will not know how to say their name, however until somewhere between 18 and 24 months. 

When will your baby understand what you are saying?

Around nine months your baby will communicate with you by showing you they comprehend your words. This typically emerges around the same time as crawling. A mobile baby can go get a book or a blanket on the floor.

Waving is more non-verbal communication we might see before age one, however, they won't always do it on command! Other gestures, like pointing, might be combined with a grunt or babbling that is so similar to the way we talk, parents will begin to understand their baby's tone of voice. A babbling string that goes up at the end while pointing might mean, "What is that?" Pointing with a hum or a mumble might mean, "I see something familiar." 

When will your baby say a first word?

We expect to hear a first word around the end of the first year. Your child is becoming linguistic! The first word is often a noun such as mama or dada, ball, or dog.

But is Dada really a first word?

Ds and Bs are the easiest consonant sounds for babies to make, so "dada" is often the first thing that sounds like a word. Remember, non-verbal communication is part of your baby's toolkit, so let the whole family decide if it was used in context! 

What is the Montessori approach to supporting language development?

Here are some tips that come from the Montessori philosophy that embrace each child's unique development path. The Montessori approach suggests that children have absorbent minds. We can support them with some gentle and intentional parenting practices.

  • Serve and return when it comes to conversation - Even a tiny baby benefits from a parent speaking to them as if they are in a real conversation. "Oh yes, you know what comes after this? Pajamas! Which pajamas are you in the mood for? I like these striped ones!"
  • Playing without quizzing for words - When a baby can gesture, it's fun to play a discovery game with them. You can ask about pages in a book, "Where is the truck?" or things you see in the world, "I see Papa coming! Is Grandma still in the car?" and give your baby affirmation when they point and make sounds of agreement. "Yes, you see Grandma now!"
  • Grace and courtesy  - We adults can model the way we aspire for our children to communicate. There’s no need to say, “Say thank you,” for example. When we say it to our partners, friends, strangers, and other parents, our little ones will adopt the behavior.
  • Reading as a ritual - Books bring vocabulary, situations, and cultures to us that we cannot access without them. See our favorite books for babies and toddlers. When we read out loud, we are accessing different ideas and sentence structures than our ordinary ways of speaking. This enriches our child's language.
  • A mindful approach to background noise - If it’s playtime or reading time, parents having screens off will support a child's focus. (We know, we know, you're looking at a screen right now, and we are at fault for inviting you to stay here reading to the end!)

Children develop along multiple tracks at the same time. While communication and language are developing, so are dexterity and control. Sometimes a baby is so consumed with their new ability to pull up to a stand or walk, that they have little interest in playing with toys or talking. That's to be expected!


LEARN ABOUT THE MONTI KIDS® PROGRAM Toddler playing independently

Monti Kids Program

0-3 Years $195 Quarterly
  • The Monti Kids Curriculum
  • One-On-One Parent Coaching
  • Authentic Montessori Toys and Activities, Delivered
  • Exclusive Parent Community

Leave a comment

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.