Speech and language development for babies

​This article is supplied by raisingchildren.net.au.​​

Speech is the ability to produce the sounds that form words. Language is the words that your baby understands and uses as well as how they use them.

Stages of speech and language development

You might think talking doesn't start until your baby is older. In fact, babies communicate from birth through crying, eye contact and listening.

At about 7-8 weeks of age, your baby will start serenading you with coos and simple sounds.

At 3-4 months, they might say practice words like 'ah goo' and 'ma ma ma ma', and babble.

At 5-7 months, you might notice they copy some of the sounds and gestures you make, like coughing, laughing, clicking or making 'raspberries'.

Around 8-9 months, the 'jargon phase' often begins. This is when your baby makes longer sequences of sounds, which might sound like normal speech.

At 10-11 months, your baby might begin to communicate with purpose. For example, to ask for something by pointing, or by looking at a person then at something they want.

By around 12-14 months, your baby might say a few words and know what they mean, like 'mama' and 'dada' to refer to mum and dad.

Understanding and language development

It's amazing how much your baby understands already. They are listening and learning all the time, as they make sense of their world.

For example, you might find that your baby understands:

  • the word 'no' at around 10 months, although they still won't always do as you say
  • very simple instructions with verbal and visual cues. For example, at around 12 months, when you hold your hand out and say 'ta', they'll give you the toy they're holding.

Ideas to help your baby's speech and language development

The best way to encourage your baby's speech and language development is to talk to them and treat them as a talker, beginning in their first year. When you finish talking, give them a turn and wait for them to respond, they will!

Lots of parents feel a bit silly talking to a little baby who doesn't talk back. But listening and watching you talk helps your baby understand the basics of communicating. For example, your baby might gaze into your face and watch your mouth as you talk.

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

  • Try 'parentese' – for example, 'Helloooo babbeeee, who's a widdle baaabeeee?' Your baby will love watching your eyes sparkle and your mouth stretching out around words.
  • 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'.
  • Sing songs and rhymes.
  • Read books and tell stories to your baby from birth. If your baby cries or wriggles while you're reading, you might want to try again later. The idea is to have special time together, so there's no need to force it.
  • Name the toys and objects around you. For example, 'Look, these are your socks. We're going to put them on your feet, aren't we?'

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