When Do Babies Start Talking? 6 Tips For Parents To Help Them Talk

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    Babies begin with adorable coos and gurgles. As they grow, they start speaking simple consonants and eventually words such as “mama” and “dada.” The next achievement is a string of words that form basic sentences. So, when exactly does this next achievement take place? MomJunction gives you a detailed insight into babies talking, how to improve their talking skills, and in case of delays, how to deal with and treat them. Read on!

    How Do Babies Learn To Talk?

    Babies learn to talk in stages, and surprisingly the first step happens in the womb. Researchers have noted brain activity in the language centers of the fetus’s  brain at around 30 weeks of gestation (1). There is a spike in fetal brain activity every time the mother speaks in a louder tone or when she stresses on vowels when pronouncing a word. Experts suggest that the spike is like the baby is having his first lesson in speech and language by listening to the mother’s voice.

    By the end of gestation, the fetus is quite adept at hearing words. During birth, babies are born with limited yet significant knowledge, including the ability to distinguish native tongue from a foreign one. Nevertheless, the progression towards meaningful speech happens one step at a time.

    When Do Babies Start Talking?

    Babies make their first sounds of coos and gurgles at the age of two months (2). These sounds lay the foundation for further speech development, with the next achievement being babbling at the end of four months (3). Development continues and by 12 months the baby begins to speak some basic words. The first meaningful words come at the age of 24 months (two years), and conversations start at the end of toddler-hood, that is 36 months (three years) (4) (5). Just like any other developmental milestone, speech development in babies is a step-by-step process that involves several stages.

    Stages Of Baby’s Language Development:

    Here is a speech development timeline with various achievements and progression levels in speech and language development (2) (3) (4) (5)  (6) (7) (8) (9).

    Stage one  from birth to three monthsMakes cooing, gurgling, and gooing sound of different tones. You may often hear a newborn break into an “mm” or “ah”
    Stage two from three to six monthsBabbles by mimicking sounds, puts vowels together, says simple consonants such as “p,” “m,” and “b”
    Stage three  from six to  12 monthsSays first words such as “mama,” “baba,” and “dada,” can exclaim “oh” and “uh-oh” expressions
    Stage four  from 12 to 18 monthsSpeaks at least ten words, can string some words to form basic sentences, says “No.” Begin to speak a few basic words like a  bottle, shoe, etc.
    Stage five from 18 to 24 monthsSays sentences of three to four words, speaks simple phrases such as “more please.” Uses words such as “hi,” “bye,” and “go,”and can speak about 50 words
    Stage six from 24 to 36 monthsSays names of everyday objects, gives name, gender, and age, can use pronouns such as “me,” “him,” and “her.” Can hold simple conversations

    Each stage presents its set of milestones and achievements. Speech development happens best when the baby is given the right amount of encouragement from parents.

    How Can Parents Help Baby Learn To Talk?

    The following steps can help your baby develop better speech and language skills.

    1. Start baby talk early: Baby talk is a childish way of framing words and sentences to make them more appealing to a baby. Start baby talk early, like in the first three months, so that they can grasp bits of language. Research shows that babies, who are introduced to baby talk earlier in life, might have a wider vocabulary by toddler-hood (10).
    1. Read and sing: These stir the little one’s interest in words and sentences. Dedicate adequate reading and singing time for stimulating language development.
    1. Encourage imitation: Let the baby copy your words and babble them out loud. It may sound gibberish, but as the baby steps into toddler-hood, their copying would become more accurate, and lay the foundation for meaningful sentence formation.
    1. Describe people and objects: Point at objects and tell the baby their names, and introduce the baby to people with their names or relation. Using nouns strengthens the object-noun association and significantly improves a baby’s vocabulary.
    1. Ask questions and have conversations: Once your baby is a toddler, ask them questions when they want something or come to you with some problem. Questions work as stimulants to make the baby think for an answer. By three years, you can have some lengthy conversations that further polish their skills.
    1. Use a language that you are most comfortable with: The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASLHA) recommends parents speak to their babies in a language they find convenient such as their native tongue (11). It helps reduce language clutter for the baby while also letting parents assess their baby’s progress.

    These measures would ensure that your baby develops language skills easily. But you must clear any roadblocks along the way.

    Things To Do For The Baby’s Proper Language Development

    Keep in mind the following points when your baby is honing the skill of language:

    1. Let the baby experiment: Allow the baby to take time to learn and try the new words that they have just learned. Let them experiment with the consonant sounds, combining them to improve their skills.
    1. Turn off background noise: When reading and singing to a baby, cut down the background noise from radio or TV. It helps the baby stay focused on the activity and prevent distractions.
    1. Limit screen time: The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) discourages the use of digital display by toddlers below 18 months except for some video-chatting once in a while (12). Extensive research demonstrates that babies who spend a lot of time with screens (TV, smartphones, and tablets), have delayed language development (13). The time spent by the baby or toddler on a screen could be better spent in verbal interaction with parents.

    There could be scenarios when a baby does not seem to be on track with language development. But, you can work towards improving it.

    What If The Baby Does Not Talk?

    Sometimes, babies do not seem to maintain pace with language development.

    Delay in talking is not always an indicator of a problem. Some toddlers just take additional time than others. You need to be patient and encourage the little one. Contact your baby’s pediatrician if you suspect a speech delay. They will identify a cause and help with designing a management and treatment plan to help the baby.

    Red Flags In Development:

    A baby with speech and language development delay will display the following signs (14).

    • No babbling by nine months
    • No first words by 15 months
    • No consistent words by 18 months
    • No word combinations by 24 months
    • Slowed or stagnant speech development
    • Parents are facing problems to understand the baby’s speech by 24 months of age and strangers facing problems to understand the baby’s speech by 36 months of age.
    • Disinterested behavior in communication with others
    • No response when someone is talking to them
    • A sudden loss of speech and language skills

    What Can Cause A Delay In A Baby’s Speech And Language?

    The following problems may cause a direct or tangential effect on speech, thus delaying progress.

    1. Premature babies: Premature infants may not start talking at the same age as a full-term infant. Do remember that premature infants take a bit longer than regular infants to learn language skills, but pick up eventually (15).
    1. Autistic spectrum disorders: Infants with this disorder may have limited vocabulary and trouble understanding words with multiple meanings.However, not all cases of autism lead to delay, and some with a minor level of autism can have normal speech skills (16) .
    1. Hearing disability: Since verbal language is learned through hearing, any problem with the ability to hear has an impact on speech development. Hearing problems can range from congenital ear defects to injuries that impact the ability to listen (17). 
    1. Neurological disorders: Neurological problems like cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, or traumatic brain injury can affect the muscles that are needed to speak (18).
    1. Behavioral problems: Some toddlers display restricted speech only in a specific environment, such as at school or daycare. It is called selective mutism (18).

    How Are Speech Delays In Babies Detected?

    If a pediatrician suspects speech problems, then the baby is referred to a speech-language pathologist who specializes in detecting speech delays in infants. A series of tests help determine any speech and language delay. Here are some parameters assessed in such tests.

    1. Hearing abilities: The inability to listen properly can interfere with the ability to learn a language efficiently. Therefore, it is the first test performed by the expert.
    1. Physical deformities: A deformed palate or lip can hamper speech. The baby is checked for the presence of deformities in the oral cavity that could potentially cause speech delay.
    1. Evaluation of speech: The doctor will evaluate the baby’s speech capabilities and shortcomings by observing the following:
    • The doctor will evaluate how well your infant can understand and interpret verbal communication.
    • The doctor assesses the clarity of speech and the number of words the baby can speak along with how much the baby can talk.

    The doctor will check if the baby prefers gestures over verbal communication as it could be a sign of problematic speech development.

    After thorough testing and analysis of the results, the specialist will arrive at a diagnosis. If the baby is detected with a problem, then it would be followed up with treatment.

    How Is An Infant’s Speech Delay Treated?

    The treatment for an infant’s speech delay depends on various factors. The earlier the problem is identified, the earlier a doctor can start working on it. The treatment will depend on the cause of the issue that causes speech delay.

    The following are the few treatment options for treating and managing speech delays in babies: (19)

    • The doctor might recommend you to a speech and language pathologist who can guide you about how to help your baby talk more and speak better. They also help the baby how to listen or lip read.
    • Depending on the trouble that the baby is facing, your baby might be referred to an audiologist, psychologist, an occupational therapist, or a social worker.
    • The language therapist might train the baby with age-appropriate music, books, or stories.
    • If the baby has an issue with the ear, the doctor might give a hearing aid to the baby.
    • If necessary, the doctor might do an ear or mouth surgery to treat the physical deformities of the ear and the mouth.
    • The therapists might teach some jaw exercises to strengthen the muscles of the mouth. 

    How Can Parents Help A Baby With Speech Delay?

    The ASLHA recommends the following tips to help the baby overcome speech delay (20) :

    • Talk and pretend to have a conversation: Young babies do not understand words, but hear and respond to sounds. Start baby talk early and have a conversation whenever you communicate with the infant. It may not seem much, but this lays the foundation for an active speech later.
    • Count numbers and name objects: When counting the number of the blocks stacked by the baby, say the numbers out loud so that the baby can hear. Point to objects and say what they are called. Address relatives and other people around by their names or the relationship.
    • Ask questions: Older infants understand questions, so ask them what they want. If the baby cries or throws a tantrum, then ask the reason behind it. Questions help stimulate an infant to use speech as a medium of expression over simple gestures.
    • Read to your baby: The AAP recommends reading, especially storybooks, to infants (21). Use books rich in pictures and point at the illustrations to name them. As the babies get older, let them take the initiative to choose a book they want to read.
    • Singing nursery rhymes is fun and easy: Do not underestimate the power of nursery rhymes. They may seem gibberish but are an excellent tool to stimulate the baby’s language-learning skills. Sing children’s songs and nursery rhymes aloud and prompt the baby to sing along. Younger infants make simple sounds, while older ones would try pronouncing the words. Either way, these habits nurture the baby’s speech.

    Frequently Asked Questions:

    1. Are speech and language development different?

    Speech is the ability to communicate through verbal articulation. Language encompasses all forms of communication, including verbal, non-verbal, and written. Babies cannot write, which is why non-verbal communication is mostly used by newborns. It means verbal language or speech is the only form of communication that displays gradual progression, just like other developmental milestones in a baby’s life.

    2. When do babies start talking fluently?

    Proper talking skills develop between the age of four and five years, and by the fifth birthday, the little one would chatter quite fluently (22) (23).

    3. How are speech delays evaluated?

    Developmental delays in speech are diagnosed and evaluated using tests that assess the baby/toddler’s response to questions and words. Usually, such tests are administered by a speech-language pathologist, who is able to determine the precise reason for speech problems in the baby.

    4. Can speech delay be cured?

    It entirely depends on the underlying cause. Some conditions, such as autism, have no cure, but can be managed successfully through lifestyle interventions. Problems such as apraxia of speech can be cured with some physiotherapy. In any case, early detection and timely intervention can help the baby have a normal speech with few hindrances.

    Babies are instinctively tuned to learn to talk, and experts state that they are genetically predisposed to talk irrespective of the stimulus used (24). Nevertheless, providing the right kind of stimulation can help them fare better. Be watchful of delays, and contact the pediatrician if you have any doubts about the baby’s speech delay. All these efforts let your baby grow up to be quite the chatterbox that toddlers are known to become! 


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