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Speech and Language Development: Birth to 12 months

(757) 668-7000

Communication is the way we give information to someone else. Communication begins at birth. Your baby tells you he/she is hungry, tired or in pain by crying. You tell your baby you love him/her by the tone of your voice, by your gentle touch, and by taking care of him/her. As you communicate with your baby, watch your baby learn ways to tell you he/she is happy, sad, satisfied or upset.

Language means using words and sentences to tell needs, wants or ideas. Speech means making the sounds that make words. Learning to talk and communicate is a very important skill that children develop. Parents are usually the first to notice when their child has a problem with speech or language. If you think that your child is having a speech/language problem, contact your child’s doctor. If you have more specific questions about your child’s speech and language you can call Children’s Speech and Language Center of Children’s Hospital of The King's Daughters at 668-7083.

AgeUnderstanding Sounds/Words (Receptive Language)Making Sounds/Words (Expressive Language)What you can do to help language development
1 to 3 months
  • Startles to loud noises
  • Looks at your face
  • Gives attention to voices
  • Smiles
  • Cries
  • Different cries for different needs can be noticed
  • Makes cooing sounds
  • Hold your baby so you are face to face
  • Talk to your baby in a soothing tone. Let your baby hear your friendly and affectionate voice. Talk to your baby about the reason for crying by saying things like “You are hungry.  I’ll feed you” or “You want a hug.”
  • Sing to your baby.
  • Let your baby hear different sounds: wind chime, ticking clock, soft music, or music box.
4 to 5 months
  • Turns to your voice and other sounds
  • Laughs/squeals
  • Starts drooling and “blowing bubbles”
  • Coos more and in response to your voice
  • Coos to toys
  • Repeat sounds and smile when your baby makes sounds.
  • Laugh with your baby.
  • Talk to and imitate your baby when you dress, feed, bathe or change the baby.
  • Put safe toys near your baby so your baby can “talk” to the toys.
  • Encourage laughing/squealing by making funny faces or sounds or by blowing on the baby’s belly and laughing.
6 months
  • Starts to respond to own name and “no”
  • Watches your mouth when you talk
  • Babbles more using “O” and “U” sounds
  • Makes razzes
  • Let your baby play with toys that make noise when shaken or hit.
  • Play in front of a mirror, holding your baby, calling the baby’s name and pointing to the mirror.
  • When talking with your baby, pause and wait for the baby to respond just like you would when talking with an adult.
7 to 9 months
  • Gives attention to conversation
  • Appears to understand some words (bottle)
  • Looks at pictures briefly
  • Understands “no”
  • Puts two syllables together (baba, gaga)
  • Starts to say dada/mama
  • “Sings” along with songs
  • Plays “Peek-a-boo”
  • Plays games like “Peek-a-boo”, “This little piggy” or “Pat-a-cake”.
  • Name common things (like bottle, blanket, ball) for your baby.
  • Play games with your mouth like making a sound while tapping your hand over your mouth or running your finger over your lip.
  • Encourage your baby to talk by repeating and adding to the sounds your baby makes. For example, if the baby says “ma”, smile and say “mama”.
10 to 12 months
  • Follows simple commands like “Put it down”
  • Moves to music
  • Shows direct attention to speech
  • Mimics or copies sounds
  • Gestures (points) with sounds
  • Puts together many syllables
  • Say mama/dada for Mother/Father and can say 1 to 3 more words
  • Plays “Pat-a-cake” and waves bye
  • Look at picture books with your baby and talk about the pictures.
  • When your baby shows he/she wants something by pointing or reaching, always say the word when you give it to your baby.
  • Encourage your baby to talk by repeating and adding to the sounds your baby makes.  For example, if your baby sees a duck and says “du” you say “Duck, yes that’s the duck”.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to substitute or replace the professional medical advice you receive from your child's physician. The content provided on this page is for informational purposes only, and was not designed to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. Please consult your child's physician with any questions or concerns you may have regarding a medical condition.

Reviewed: 11/2017

(757) 668-7000