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Speech Development Milestones

Asa Jomard | 9, June 2009


Speech Development Milestones

Long before a baby utters his first words, he is learning the rules of language and communication. The remarkable language journey starts in the womb when a baby absorbs different aspects of his native language structure. During the first three years of life, the brain is maturing at an astonishing rate, and a crying baby develops into a babbling and later chattering toddler.

Speech Development at Birth

From birth, a baby makes a range of sounds and noises such as crying, coughing, burping and quiet low-pitched contented sounds. Crying is the main way of communicating, and it provides clues about how the baby is feeling. A mother is biologically programmed to respond to a newborn's crying, and the biological changes help to meet the newborn's need. Parents prompt responding is a way of showing love and support, and it is the beginning of back-and-forth communication.

Speech Development at 1 to 3 months

The first laugh, giggle and gurgle are added to the communication repertoire during a newborn's first month. Several different cooing sounds are practiced and a baby discovers how to control the muscles needed for talking. A baby starts to imitate sounds and he practices moving his tongue, and you can repeat his sounds and wait for an answer. Little "oooh" and "aah" and pleasure sounds like "mmmm" can be heard. Babies are actively listening and begin to respond more specifically to sounds, and instead of being startled they turn their heads or change their facial expressions.

Speech Development at 3 to 6 months

Babies like to laugh and squeal with pleasure, and they continue to gurgle and coo. Sounds made with the lips placed together like blowing raspberries and lip smackers are practiced over and over again and also extreme pitch chances such as yells and squeals. Around four months a baby will start to make single sounds or repeat some sounds such as "dada, gaga". The sounds may be made by using the lips ("baba") or at the back of the mouth where the tongue touches the throat ("kaka"). Babies later combine sounds into longer sequences, "dadadada", but most likely they are not calling for their parents. But at this age they will begin to recognize and respond to their name being called.

Speech Development at 6 to 9 months

The baby continues to engage in babbling and tries different combinations and sequences. Variations in the intonation of babbling start to appear, and it might sound as if a baby is asking a question. A baby learns to respond to their first words and might wave if you say "bye-bye", or stop if you say "no". Babies listen attentively when spoken to and different noises are made to capture their parents' attention.

Speech Development at 9 to 12 months

At 9 months, babies are often fairly talented at multi-syllable babbling and use most vowels and many consonants. Strings of different syllables such as "ma-ba-da" begin to appear, and also babbling with vowels and constants like "aba". Babies can imitate words and sounds, and the much awaited first words might appear. Words such as "Mama" and "Dada" begin to have meaning at this age.

Babies develop improved nonverbal communication skills, and they seem to understand and interact more. Babies point in response to questions such as "Where's the bear?" and by 12 months your baby is likely to understand a lot of what you say. Parents that talk to their children are more likely to have talkative children.

Speech Development at 12 to 18 Months

The first proper word is often said around the baby's first birthday. First words are usually simple names or easy to say objects. Nouns usually come first, like "ball". The words may not always sound like adult words, but the words are used consistently for the same thing, for example "og" for dog. Encourage your child to talk and repeat the word, and the child will eventually learn it. Toddlers can point to an object when it is named, and recognizes names of familiar people and objects. A toddler begins to understand basic instructions like 'come here', and he may also begin to ask two-word questions like "where ball?"

Speech Development at 18-24 months

Language development takes off, and the vocabulary is increasing every day. A toddler begins to put two words together, and by the age of two they usually combine two words such as "cat big". A 2-year-old begins to follow two-step commands, such as "Go get your hat and put it on". Children may start asking questions and they change their tone of their voice to show that they are asking something. They begin to master words like "me", "you", "up" and "down". Some children to not start to talk until their second birthday, they choose to use gestures and sounds instead.

If your child does not babble or imitate any sounds, it could indicate problem with hearing or speech development. Every child grows and develops differently, and it is important not to compare your child's language and speech development to other children's. Early detection may reduce some of the problems associated with speech delay, so parents that are concerned should discuss the matter with a professional.

The Language Journey
Birth to 3 months
  • turns towards familiar sounds, voices
  • begins to imitate some sounds
3-6 months
  • babbling and imitating sounds
  • eyes follow you around when you are talking
  • a baby who is not responding to sound or imitating sounds might indicate hearing problems
6-9 months
  • babbling grows stronger and more advanced
  • responds to their first words
9-12 months
  • words like "mama" have meaning
  • tries to imitate words, uses gestures
12-18 months
  • first words
  • understands basic instructions.
18-24 months
  • vocabulary increases
  • put two words together
  • follows commands
Asa Jomard is a freelance writer, with degrees in Psychology and Counseling. She enjoys gardening, star watching, playing with her dog and cat, and listening to music. She has a teen aged daughter.

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Showing 1 - 3 out of 3 Comments
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Betty Jan 4, 2018 09:19:56 AM ET

My baby is 1 year and 1 month but, he can't imitate and no much burbling. What might be the problem?

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Ayesha Jan 9, 2015 06:12:57 AM ET

My 19 month old is not properly talking yet. He can say 'here', 'no', and 'yes'. He can also follow all of my commands. But, he can't say 'mama' or 'papa'. I am concerned about his lack of talking. Please help me!

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d cost Sep 12, 2009 01:16:47 PM ET

My child began talking at 4 mos old. we really thought she was just making sounds, but her gestural language and movements made it obvious she was saying "hi" and from there on she began naming objects and utilized sign soon after. now she is nearly 3 and has not stopped talking! can anyone suggest ideas to encourage her language development to continue?

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