Eagerly anticipating the day your little one says "mama" or "dada"? Find out when babies start talking, and learn how to improve your child's language development.
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So far, your baby's main method of communication has been crying. Fortunately, though, they'll soon make a huge leap in language development. Soon, your baby will be able to talk. But just as they have to crawl before they walk, your little will start babbling before they say any real words.

"Babbling is an important milestone because it represents the beginning of real communication, when a baby starts experimenting with sounds, listening for a reaction, responding, and building social relationships," says Sherry Artemenko, a speech-language pathologist and founder of Play on Words. Keep reading to learn when most babies start talking and how to improve language development.

Talking and Developmental Milestones

When your baby starts "talking," they are flaunting their budding language skills. Sure, you don't have any idea what they are saying, but this gibberish will eventually lead to real words. Chatter also gives you a peek into their cognitive development, as they memorize and repeat sounds, take time to think about what they wants to "say," and learn how to use verbal and nonverbal actions.

There's a social component to babbling, too. Long before your baby says a word, they learn the rules of language and socialization by watching you. Babies see how you react to sounds and observe how you take turns talking with conversational partners. Through this, they learn language and mimic how others engage verbally with them.

when do babies start talking happy baby sitting on floor
Credit: 5712495/Pixabay

Stages of Verbal Development in Babies

Your baby's verbal skills will progress through stages as their vocal mechanism matures and as they learn to relate to their environment, Artemenko says. First, vowel-like sounds at birth move to "coos" and "goos" at 2 to 3 months. Babbling starts around 4 months of age.

First babbles often include "p," "b," and "m" sounds, which are produced by simply putting the lips together, says Diane Paul, Ph.D., director of clinical issues in speech-language pathology at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association in Rockville, Maryland. So you will hear lots of "puh puh puh," "buh buh buh," and "muh muh muh" sounds initially.

Here are some ways to help your baby's speech and language development:

  • Engage in a conversation by talking to your baby
  • Pause after you say something so that they have time to process your words and "respond"
  • Use different tones and syllables so they can try to imitate you and learn new sounds
  • Explain your baby's babble, i.e. if they say "ma ma ba ba" while looking around, you might say, "Oh, are you looking for your bottle? Where did the bottle go?"

"Research shows that the quantity of words spoken to an infant positively affects language development," Artemenko says, so use proper words to talk, read, and sing to your baby.

When Do Babies Say Their First Word? 

Once your baby has practiced using their lips and tongue to form sounds, usually around 6 to 7 months, their babbles will become more speech-like. You'll hear a wider variety of sounds, like "ba ba-pa-ta-bi-bi-bi," Dr. Paul says.

It may seem like your little one is blurting out random sounds, but if you pay close attention, you'll observe changes in tone and inflection when they talks. Their voice may rise at the end of a string of babble, as though he's asking a question, or they may mumble under their breath after Aunt Martha goes overboard kissing their cheek.

You'll also notice that your child may pause after saying what's on their mind, seemingly waiting for a response. This is because babies learn quickly that a conversation is a back-and-forth thing, not just one person rambling on. 

That said, you should focus on what your baby "says" over how they says it; if their tone doesn't make it clear, their facial expressions and body language may. For example, if your little has a huge grin on their face and is bouncing up and down, they are probably sharing exciting news. On the other hand, if there's a frown on their face and they are pointing at you while using a high-pitched voice, your love bug may be trying to give you a good scolding!

When do babies start talking clearly and fluently? "Toward the end of your baby's first year, they'll babble in longer strings of varied short nonsense syllables, using the intonation and rhythm mimicking that of an adult," Artemenko says. This stage of jargon is a precursor to speaking first words, which usually happens right around your child's first birthday. Wondering what that magical first word might be? "Dada," "mama," "baby," "ball," "doggie," "book," and "hi" are some common ones, Dr. Paul says.

When to See a Doctor

Remember, children develop skills at different times. As long as your baby's chatter is progressing and they are engaging with you and others, there's likely no need to worry. But if their speech and language development stops or regresses at any point, if they are not babbling and making eye contact or gestures, or if words don't emerge by the time they're 15 months, schedule an appointment with your pediatrician and a speech-language pathologist. Also call your local public school at any age—the earlier a child gets help for a speech or language problem, the better.