Things to expect when your baby learns to talk for the first time

During the newborn stages, your baby's only way to communicate is to cry regularly and loudly. Thankfully, though, she'll soon go through a momentous leap in language development, which will enhance her ability to express herself through actual words.

But every baby has to learn how to crawl before walking, so your baby has to babble before she can talk. Babbling is an essential milestone because it signifies the start of a true form of communication. This is when your baby begins to experiment with sounds, she begins to listen for a reaction, respond, and eventually build interpersonal relationships.

As soon as your baby starts "talking" about things, she's actually manifesting her blossoming language skills. You may not have any clue about what she's actually trying to tell you, but that’s okay; gibberish will eventually transform to real words. Your baby’s chatter also gives you a peek into her mental growth, as she memorises and mimics sounds, takes time to think about what she wants to "say," and learns how to use verbal and nonverbal cues to express her wants.

There's also a social component in her language development. Before your baby even learns to say a word, she first learns the rules of communication and social interaction by observing how people react to her sounds. Babies are biologically wired to learn language and are influenced by how others connect with them verbally.

When can you expect to hear your baby talk for the first time?

Your baby's verbal capability will develop through stages as her vocal mechanism matures and she becomes more stimulated by her environments. In the early stages, vowel-like sounds at birth move to coos and goos at 2 to 3 months, while babbling usually starts during her 4th month. First babbles typically include "p," "b," and "m" sounds, because these sounds are produced by simply putting the lips together. That is why you’ll mostly hear a lot of "puh puh puh," "buh buh buh," and "muh muh muh" sounds early on.

You can help develop your baby’s language skills

As a parent, your role is to facilitate the development of your baby’s communication. There’s no need to rush your baby to start talking, as each baby has her own path and pacing. Here are some of the things you can do:

  • Engage in a conversation by talking to your baby as much as you can. Studies show that the quantity of words spoken to a baby helps improve language development
  • Pause after you say something so that she has time to absorb your words and make a "response"
  • Use different tones and syllables when you talk so that she will try to mimic you and learn new sounds. Make use of proper words when talking, reading, and singing to your baby.
  • Explain your baby's babble to her. If she says "ma ma ba ba" while looking around, you might say, "Oh, are you looking for your bottle? Where did the bottle go?"

Things to remember as your baby continues to develop her language

Around 6 to 7 months, when your baby has had more practise using her lips and tongue to create sounds, you will notice that her babbles will become more speech-like. Expect to hear a variety of sounds, not just limited to a few syllables.

Sometimes it may seem as though your baby is just blurting out random sounds, but if you pay close attention, you'll hear changes in tone and inflection when she talks. Her voice may at times rise at the end of a babble, as though he's asking a question. She may also mumble under her breath after an unpleasant experience. You'll also notice that she may pause after she says something, seemingly waiting for a response.

He now discovers that a conversation is a back-and-forth activity and not just one person blabbing. Pay more attention to what your baby "says" over how she says it. If her tone doesn't make it comprehensible, her facial expressions and body language may give you clues.

Take note that each child is unique and so your baby may develop language skills at different times. As long as your baby's chatter is progressing and he's socially interacting with you and other people, there's no need to worry. On the other hand, if her speech and language stops or regresses at any point and he's no longer babbling and making eye contact or gestures, you may need to take action. If words don't emerge by time your baby is 15 months old, talk to your pediatrician or consult a speech-language pathologist.

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