From 3 to 18 months, your baby’s speech develops dramatically. Simple, enjoyable interactions and play ideas – like reading and singing – will encourage your baby’s talking and language skills.

What to expect from baby talking and language

Babies develop language at different rates – some learn quickly and others might need a bit more time.

As your baby starts to learn about language you might hear him:

  • cooing, gurgling and babbling
  • putting together simple sounds – for example, ‘ba-ba’
  • copying words
  • communicating ‘no’ with a shake of the head.

At 12-18 months, most babies say their first words. But at this age, you and other close family members might be the only people who know what these words mean! Even though your baby’s words might not sound quite right yet, she still enjoys babbling happily when you talk. She also likes pointing out familiar objects when you name them.

By birthday number two, your baby has become better at talking but some sounds might still be hard for him to say correctly, like the letter ‘r’. He might say it as ‘w’ instead – for example, it might sound like your child is saying ‘wed’ instead of ‘red’.

Encouraging talking skills is as easy as listening and responding to your baby. Sharing stories, songs, rhymes – even talking about your day – will all help your baby learn and practise language. Sharing these experiences with your baby also helps to build your relationship.

Play ideas to encourage talking

The more words children hear, the more words they can learn.

Here are some fun things to do together to encourage baby talking and language:

  • Chat to your baby about the things you’re doing around the house, even if you think they’re boring – for example, ‘Daddy’s vacuuming the carpet to get rid of the dust that makes you sneeze’.
  • Repeat your baby’s attempts at words to encourage two-way conversation. For example, if she says ‘mama’ you could say ‘mama’ back to her. You can also repeat and build on your toddler’s words. For example, when baby says, ‘train’, you say, ‘Yes, it’s a big red train’.
  • Show interest in your baby’s babbling and talking by looking him in the eye and giving lots of smiles. 
  • Respond to and talk about your baby’s interests. For example, if your baby starts playing with a toy train, you could say ‘Toot, toot’.
  • Read and tell stories with your baby.
  • Share songs and nursery rhymes.
  • Praise your baby’s efforts to talk. For example, if your baby points to a dog and names it, you could say, ‘Well done for pointing out the dog, Georgie!’ 
Nappy-changing is a great time for some face-to-face conversation with your baby. You could try talking, singing and looking at baby’s face as you change nappies.

Concerns about baby talking

If you have concerns about your child’s language development – for example, your baby doesn’t babble or doesn’t seem to hear you or listen when others are talking – it’s a good idea to talk to your child and family health nurse, GP or paediatrician.

Sometimes delays in communication skills can be signs of more serious developmental disorders or developmental delay, including language delayhearing impairmentintellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder. Health professionals can help your family figure out whether there’s an issue and what you can do about it.

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Last updated or reviewed
17-11-2017

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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