About baby language development
Your baby’s communication skills grow a lot in their first year of life. Your baby learns how to express themselves, respond to you, and understand when you communicate with them. All this happens before your baby says their first real words, which is around their first birthday.
Expressing: baby language development
As part of language development in the first year, your baby will express themselves in many ways.
At 3-4 months, your baby might:
- make eye contact with you
- say ‘ah-goo’ or another combination of vowels and consonants
- babble and combine vowels and consonants from 4 months, like ‘ga ga ga ga’, ‘ba ba ba ba’, ‘ma ma ma ma’ and ‘da da da da’.
At 5-7 months, your baby might:
- copy some of the sounds you make, like coughing, laughing, clicking or making ‘raspberries’
- copy some of the gestures you make, like waving, pointing or clapping
- play with making different sounds, like ‘aaieee’, ‘booo’ and ‘ahh’ at different pitches and volumes.
At 8-9 months, your baby might:
- put sounds together with rhythm and tone, in ways that sound like normal speech (the ‘jargon phase’), which might continue when first words begin
- say ‘mama’ or ‘dada’, although they might not know what these words mean.
At 10-11 months, your baby might:
- use noises or gestures to ask for something, say no to something, insist on something, or greet someone
- speak their first word and know what it means.
By around 12-14 months, your baby might say a few words and know what they mean, like ‘mama’ or ‘dada’ to refer to mum or dad.
Responding: baby language development
In these months, your baby will respond to you in many ways. For example, your baby might:
- make sounds, look excited or go quiet when you talk with them or say their name
- coo and laugh – for example, while you’re changing their nappy
- smile and laugh when you play with them
- enjoy games like peekaboo and other action games
- use gestures like waving or pointing
- respond to their own name by looking, widening their eyes, listening or smiling.
Understanding: baby language development
Your baby is listening and learning all the time. This helps your baby understand their world.
At 8-9 months, you might find that your baby understands your body language – for example, they might look towards where you point.
At 9-11 months, your baby might understand the word ‘no’, although they won’t always do as you say.
At 11-12 months, your baby might understand very simple instructions with verbal and visual cues. For example, if you hold your hand out and say ‘For daddy?’, your baby might give you the toy they’re holding.
Your baby learns a lot about language by listening to the rhythms of your speech. For example, rhythm helps your baby learn what different words sound like and identify when one word ends and the next begins. Nursery rhymes have a lot of rhythm, so singing them to your baby is a great way to encourage language development.
When to get help for language development
If you notice any of the following signs in your 12-month-old baby or you’re worried about your baby’s language development, it’s a very good idea to see your child and family health nurse, GP or paediatrician. They might refer you to a speech pathologist.
- isn’t interested in sounds
- doesn’t respond to their name or noises
- isn’t babbling
- isn’t trying to let you know what they want using body language, sounds or words
- has stopped using a language skill they once had.
Children learn new skills over time and at different ages. Most children develop skills in the same order, and each new skill they learn builds on the last. Small differences in when children develop skills are usually nothing to worry about. But if you’re wondering whether your child’s development is on track or you feel that something isn’t quite right, it’s good to get help early.