How babies learn to talk and ways to help

 How babies learn to talk

Stages of language development in babies under 1

Babies start recognising sounds in the womb.  Leading researchers believe that your baby is hard-wired to learn language from the minute he is born.

During the first few months, it might not feel like your baby understands you, but your baby is listening to your voice, and will recognise much more than he can say.   This is the difference between receptive language and expressive language.  Expressive language always lags behind.

By the time your baby reaches 5 months, he will be able to recognise the sound pattern of his own name and turn his head when you call him.

By 6 months, your baby will know the words mummy and daddy and will be able to relate them to the right person. 

Around 7 months, your baby’s babbling gets more word-like, although it will still be several months until he says his first word.

Research has shown that at 8 months babies use "statistics" to recognise words.  You baby is so clever and he doesn’t even know it.  

At around about his first birthday, your baby will say his first word and understand the meaning.  He will point at the object to draw your attention – a major milestone for you and your baby.


Tips to help your baby talk

Don’t think talking to your baby is a waste of time, because he doesn’t understand.  You baby understands lots and will love to hear you talk about daily activities.

The latest research shows that babies prefer high-pitched, cooing, baby-like sounds over adult language.  It makes babies pay attention.

This little video from McGill University shows the type of sounds researchers used to attract babies attention.  Just look at the baby’s little face. The raised eyebrows and wide smile say it all.


Babies appear to recognise instantly when language is directed at them as opposed to adult language which is likely to be directed at another person.

Does that mean you should use baby-talk all the time?  Probably not.  Some research suggests that babies benefit from hearing properly spoken language.  They call baby-directed speech “parentese”.  Parentese uses actual words in short, simple sentences, often over and over again.  This is different to “baby-language” which uses sounds and nonsense words.   

Another great way to introduce more formal language to your baby is to read books.  Book language is different from spoken language and prepares babies for language encountered during school.

Read more about how to introduce books early here:

How and why to introduce books to your baby at 3 months.

Reading is a lovely way to be physically close to your baby and bond.

Being physically close enough to your baby is always helpful when it comes to language acquisition. Experiencing a sense of security and being relaxed are the pre-requisites for your baby to practice new sounds.

The most effective way to teach your baby to talk is by listening to him.  Find something your baby is interested in and really give your baby your full attention. 

This method is preferable to diverting your baby’s attention to something YOU find of importance and want to teach him.  Let your baby lead the way during interaction and play.

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