With such a wide range of what’s normal, and with language development being so complex, it can be difficult to know when to worry about your child not talking and when to watch and wait.
We’ve had many years of personal experience in this area and have researched this subject and spoken with experts to help you gauge where your child stands when it comes to speech. Whether you are curious about when you can expect that first word or are worried there may be a problem with your child’s speech, we’ve created this guide to average speech development and milestones.
When Do Babies Start Talking?
Most babies say their first word somewhere between nine months and their first birthday, although some children don’t start talking until later. Before that age, your baby might make sounds like ma-ma or da-da, but these are usually the random noises babies make when experimenting with sounds rather than actual words.
When Do Babies Start Talking?
Most babies say their first word sometime around their first birthday, but before they speak a clear word, your baby will babble and make sounds such as ba-ba-ba and da-da-da (1).
So, when can you expect your baby to start talking? The normal range of first speech development is anywhere within nine to eighteen months.
Verbal Development Milestones
Rather than focusing on when your baby starts talking, it’s more important to consider their language development as a whole.
Language development includes everything from sounds and words to gestures and body language. If your child seems to understand you, points to things, and uses facial expressions, they are developing language skills. Being late to say a first word is less of a worry.
Here are some language milestones to watch for:
Birth to 3 Months
- Has different cries for different needs.
- Begins to make cooing noises.
4 to 6 Months
- Laughs and giggles.
- Makes random babbling sounds such as “ma,” “lo,” and “mi.”
- Babbles when playing alone.
- Begins to develop emphasis by changing pitch.
7 Months to 1 Year
- “Talks” to you by making sounds rather than crying.
- Will look at everyday items when you name them.
- Gestures and looks at things to communicate.
- Makes longer strings of babbling noises such as ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba.
- Mixes different sounds, for example, ba-da-la.
- Says their first word.
How to Encourage Babies to Talk
There are plenty of ways to encourage your child to talk and say their first word.
The more you expose your baby to words and communication, the better. By talking to your baby, you give them plenty of opportunities to hear and learn.
Have two-way conversations with your baby, giving them plenty of time to babble away and “talk” to you.
Sharing books is an excellent way to spend time with your baby. And reading the same books repeatedly will help reinforce the sounds, tones, and rhythm of language.
4. Playing alone
Giving your child space and time to play and babble alone is just as important for their development as spending time together. Allowing your baby some (supervised) unstructured free time is a valuable way for them to learn.
Causes of Speech Delays
There are many possible causes of speech delay, including:
1. Hearing issues
It goes without saying that a child who is deaf will have delayed speech. But even a slight hearing loss, which is harder to detect in a baby or toddler, can affect when and how a child begins to speak (2).
2. Physical challenges
Some children have physical issues, such as a problem with the shape of their mouth or tongue. This can make it difficult for your child to form the sounds they want to make.
3. Neurological disorders
Neurological conditions such as cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, and traumatic brain injury can prevent a child from controlling the muscles necessary for speech (3).
4. Lack of stimulation
When a child isn’t spoken to or spends too much time with one-way language, they do not have the opportunity to copy and receive feedback on their speech, which can cause a delay (4).
5. Speech and language disorders
There’s a wide variety of disorders that can affect speech. Apraxia, speech sound/articulation disorders, and resonance disorders are just a few of these (5).
When Should You Worry If Your Child Is Not Talking?
There’s no need to worry if your child babbles and responds to you but hasn’t said their first word by their first birthday. But if you’re feeling concerned, these are some of the signs your child’s language development may be delayed (6):
- Doesn’t babble by 4 to 7 months.
- Doesn’t make gestures like pointing or waving by 12 months.
- Still has trouble consistently copying or making a basic sound like “ba” by 18 months.
The CDC has a free milestones app and printable checklists you can use to decide whether or not to speak with a healthcare provider (7).
FAQs About Babies Talking
These are the speech and language questions we are most frequently asked about babies talking:
Is Late Talking a Sign of Autism?
Late talking alone is not a sign of autism, and speech delay has been removed from the diagnostic criteria entirely (8). Instead, impaired social interaction and restricted or repetitive patterns of behavior, activities, or interests are considered signs of autism.
How Common are Late Talkers?
It is estimated that 15% to 25% of toddlers are late talkers. A late talker is a child who speaks less than 10 words by 18 to 20 months or less than 50 words by 30 months (9).
Do Pacifiers Cause Speech Delay?
The Bottom Line
Most babies start talking sometime around their first birthday. But even before they speak, your child will develop other language skills such as making sounds and using glances, gestures, and body language to show you what they need or mean.