Baby's First Words
Written by Victoria Adepoju
Your baby’s first words are likely to happen after a few months of vocalizing and verbal experimentation, from coos and mumbles, to ‘sing-song’ combinations of vowels and consonants. When your baby says their first word, e.g. “mama” or dada” it is very likely to just be sounds, without them actually knowing what the sounds mean. These sounds will eventually start to transform into words with meaning, a developmental milestone that will leave you feeling amazed.
Babies tend to attempt to express themselves in words with meaning anywhere between 9-14 months. Some babies don’t say a recognisable word until their 18th month, whereas some babies begin to communicate in words or word-sounds as early as seven months. However, this is just a guide and it is important to remember that every child develops at their own pace.
How to help your baby to start talking
Language acquisition starts with receptive language, or understanding individual words and their meanings. Starting at birth, babies are listening closely to the words and sounds all around them and begin to sort out their meanings. By about sixmonths, your baby will most likely understand several individual words, such as their name, the name of familiar people and objects. A few months after that and your baby will start to experiment with making sounds of their own.
I found that talking to my daughter all the time helped her to say her first word and then many wordsfollowed quite quickly after that. She was eager to pick up on my verbal cues. I spoke to her like I would a friend, narrating the day as we went along. I would describe to her what we were going to do on the day, objects we would see on our walks and things we would see on television. I made sure I used simple language, spoke slowly to allow her to understand what I was saying and repeated the same things over and over again if we would do the same activity or come across the same object.
I also read to her every day and pointed to different objects in the picture books. As she got a little older, I would ask her questions and wait for her to answer back with a sound. If she could respond with a sound, I would really encourage her by smiling, making eye contact and saying something back to her. This showed her that I was listening to her and valued what she was saying. I believe this encouraged her and made her excited to try making sounds again.
Another big help in our household with our daughter speaking early on, was listening and watching nursery rhymes. I know for some parents, screen time for their babies is not acceptable, but it was so helpful for us. I would have nursery rhymes in the background for most the day on YouTube when we were home. A firm favourite was Dave and Ava, an American channel with a vast amount of content that is educational as well as fun and colourful. I found that very quickly our daughter could sing along to the songs and before we knew it she was able to count and recognise her alphabets. Coupled with this, I attended mum and baby groups at the library where there was always a sing-a-long class on a Friday morning. It may be a little harder now during the COVID-19 pandemic times to gather in groups due to social distancing, however I would hope there arevirtual groups that mums can attend with their babies.
Understanding concepts and directions will take a little longer. Sometime around your baby’s first birthday (often before), most toddlers will begin to follow simple commands, but only if issued one step at a time. Your baby’s vocabulary will likely begin to explode around month 18 and they may be able to put together a sentence by age 2. However, as mentioned before this is just a guide and it is really important to remember that every child is different.