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Baby's First Words

Katlyn Joy |29, December 2010


Baby's First Words

By the time your baby is several months old, you will undoubtedly have separated the sounds, "Mama", or "Dada", from the rest of the busy babbling syllables. However, don't run for the memory book ready to record baby's first word. More likely than not, it was a happy accident. Baby is repeating sounds and tones and is not ready to associate meaning with those sounds quite yet.

New research indicates that worldwide, baby's first words are often made up of repeated syllables, like mama, dada, papa or tata. It seems we are hardwired to respond to repeated sounds and are more likely to say these types of words first.

As baby explores and grows, he will likely start attaching meaning to his sounds. However, they might not match up to your own. For instance, you say "bottle", baby says "bobo", or you say "pacifier", and baby says "pipi." Next week he might come up with other words for objects. By the time of his first birthday his utterings will become more consistent and while not everyone will be able to translate your little darlings language, you will most the time.

Typical First Words

Most first words are nouns, not surprisingly since we tend to label objects for babies more often than we do verbs or actions. And babies tend to communicate negative emotions through nonverbal cues and crying more than words at first, so expect baby's first words to be happy and loving ones. Common first words include Mom, Mama, Dada, Dad, bottle, blanky, and so on.

Later on expect phrases like Night-night, bye bye and I want -- or give me.

Baby's First Words Timetables

Babies are highly unique and language development is a personal process. The process can even differ greatly among siblings. So don't worry if your firstborn was spewing full dictionaries by age 2 and your second-born has only gotten around to some basic words at 18 months.

  • 4-6 months: babbling begins in earnest.
  • 8-12 months: first words may start to appear, and intonations and inflections make baby sound. Sure she knows what she's saying—even if you don't!
  • 12-18 months: some children will start two-word sentences while others are just starting with first words. Usually most children know 5 up to 20 words at this stage.
  • 2 years: Might repeat simple rhymes or little tunes, and might be using 3 word sentences.

How to Help Baby Say His First Words

  • Talk to baby often. Narrate what you're doing. Label objects and actions for baby.
  • Answer baby's babbles. If you have no idea what she's saying, no matter. Baby is taking in all kinds of communication skills like tone, inflections and patterns. Let baby practice conversation.
  • Read to baby everyday. While you read the story, don't be a stickler for sticking to the script. Stop and ask questions about the pictures. Let baby point to different objects. Let baby finish your sentences. This works especially well with rhymes and rhythmic stories.
  • Sing with baby. Teach baby simple children's songs and fingerplays.
  • When baby becomes toddler, don't stop the talk. Especially important for his development is answering all his questions. And that will keep you quite busy!

Possible Speech Concerns

Babies that lag behind in speech development might be struggling in general with their development. Get a screening done at your pediatrician's office to answer any nagging concerns you may have. One screening isn't a perfect tool, though. Your child's doctor should do periodic screenings to make sure baby is making progress. All children have jumps and starts in growth and periods of quiet as well.

If baby doesn't seem to respond to his name or sounds like other children, request a hearing evaluation.

Other possible issues can include being tongue-tied, which is simple to diagnose and correct or perhaps a problem due to frequent ear infections.

Early intervention makes a huge difference for children who have some early difficulties in development so don't delay in getting answers and help if indicated. Services for children ages 0-3 can be center based or home based and may be entirely free to your family.

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