First Words

When Do Babies Start Talking

Learn more about language development in little ones, from cooing and babbling to encouraging your little one to speak.

Bubs Australia

Your baby’s first words are an exciting milestone, signalling the transition into better communication between them and the wider world. But when do babies start talking? When do babies say their first words? And what can you expect along the way?

Understanding Language Development Milestones

Mastering the art of language isn’t a quick process, especially for our littlest loves. The transition from cooing to speaking in complete sentences takes time, with many developmental milestones along the way. Each of these baby talking milestones is important, laying the foundation for future speaking skills, but it’s important to remember that each baby will reach them at their own pace.

When Do Babies Start Cooing and Babbling?

Cooing is a term used to describe the single vowel-like sounds made by young babies. These sounds are essentially your little one’s first attempts at expressive language. Babies may start cooing at around three months of age.

By around six months of age, most babies will begin to babble, whereby they produce a variety of sounds that combine common consonant and vowel sounds into new vocalisations (examples include “ma-ma”, “da-da”, and “bah-bah”). These sounds may appear random but tend to follow subtle rhythms and patterns. As they babble, babies begin to imitate the sounds and rhythms of their language, laying the foundations for future speech.

When Do Babies Start Understanding Words?

Although your little one may not be ready to say their first words, it doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t understand what you’re saying. By about six months, your babies will start to recognise their name and may begin to understand the meaning of some common nouns and commands. Interacting with your little one through daily activities can aid their comprehension and vocabulary growth.

When Do Babies Say Their First Words?

On average, most babies will say their first words at around 12 months of age. Much like other developmental milestones, the exact age at which your little one will speak their first words may vary. Some children may start to talk sooner or later than others, and that’s okay. If you are concerned that your baby is taking longer to speak than their peers, speak to a healthcare professional.

Some of the most common first words for babies include:

  • Mama
  • Dada
  • Ball
  • Bye
  • Hi
  • No

While some words, such as “mama” and “dada”, may be spoken in full, others, like “ball”, may be abbreviated to simpler sounds, such as “ba”, while your little one gets the hang of speaking.

When Do Babies Start Talking?

Once your little one has mastered a few simple words, you may wonder when they’ll start stringing them together into sentences. While the exact timing does vary from child to child, toddlers can generally form short phrases and sentences of two to three words at around two years of age.

What Factors Affect Language Development?

Although we all hope that our little ones will reach their milestones right on time, several factors can affect language development. These can include:

  • Genetic factors – e.g. hearing loss, tongue ties, disorders affecting the face, neck, voice and throat.
  • Environment and exposure to language – e.g. living in a bilingual household can slightly delay speech, but children will often catch up quickly with their monolingual peers. 
  • Access to resources – e.g. not being regularly exposed to speech from adults and other sources.
  • Developmental disabilities – e.g. cognitive disabilities and autism spectrum disorder.

If you believe there is an issue in your baby’s language development, speak to your paediatrician to diagnose the cause of the delay. There are a variety of early interventions available that can help your little one build their speech and language skills.

Tips For Encouraging Your Baby To Talk

Looking to encourage your baby’s first words? You can support your little one on their journey to speaking in a few different ways. Read on to discover some of these strategies.

1. Communicate Frequently

To kick-start your little one’s vocabulary and encourage them to start speaking, spend time chatting, singing and reading to them. This can help increase their general exposure to language and expand the number of words they encounter daily. Speak to them as you go about your day, narrating what’s happening around you and naming objects, people and places. You may also consider setting aside time to read a book together or perhaps sing along to the lyrics of their favourite songs.

2. Respond To Babbling

Engaging with your baby and responding to their babbling can help encourage their language development. Spend time repeating the sounds they make and follow with some similar words. If they were to say “wa”, you could say words like ‘water’ and ‘walk’ that build on the initial sound.

3. Use Repetition and Reinforcement

Learning to talk takes time and plenty of practice. Use repetition to help reinforce your baby’s language development by having similar conversations at the same time each day. You might choose to narrate what’s happening at bathtime or when you change their nappy, or you may look to use mealtimes to talk about different foods, colours and more.

4. Create a Language-Rich Environment

A language-rich environment provides little ones with the stimulation needed to develop their speaking skills. To help expose your baby to a diverse vocabulary of words and varied language patterns, you might look to:

  • Sing songs together
  • Read with your child daily
  • Name objects in the environment around you, whether you’re at home or out and about
  • Talk through both your and their actions throughout the day.

Hearing your baby’s first words is an experience you won’t forget in a hurry. If you’re waiting for your little one to start talking, keep the key baby talking milestones in mind, but don’t worry if your bub says their first words a little earlier or later. Like most other developmental milestones, most babies will start talking in their own time. If you are concerned about your child’s development, be sure to consult your healthcare professional.

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