From 3 to 18 months, your baby’s speech develops dramatically. Simple, enjoyable interactions and play ideas – like reading and singing – will encourage your baby’s talking and language skills.

What to expect from baby talking and language

Babies develop language at different rates – some learn quickly and others might need a bit more time.

As your baby starts to learn about language you might hear him:

  • cooing, gurgling and babbling

  • putting together simple sounds – for example, ‘ba-ba’

  • copying words

  • communicating ‘no’ with a shake of the head

At 12-18 months, most babies say their first words. But at this age, you and other close family members might be the only people who know what these words mean! Even though your baby’s words might not sound quite right yet, she still enjoys babbling happily when you talk and pointing out familiar objects.

By birthday number two, your baby has become much better at talking but some sounds might still be hard for him to say correctly, like the letter ‘r’. He might say it as ‘w’ instead – for example, it might sound like your child is saying ‘wed’ instead of ‘red’.

Encouraging talking skills is as easy as listening and talking to your baby. Sharing stories, songs, rhymes – even talking about your day – will all help your baby learn and practise language. Sharing these experiences with your baby also helps to build your relationship.

Play ideas to encourage talking

The more words children hear, the more words they can learn.

Here are some fun things to do together to encourage baby talking and language:

  • Chat to your baby about the things you’re doing around the house, even if you think they’re boring – for example, ‘Daddy’s vacuuming the carpet to get rid of the dust that makes you sneeze’.

  • Repeat your baby’s attempts at words to encourage two-way conversation – for example, if he says ‘mama’ you could say ‘mama’ back to him. You can also expand on basic words. For example, when baby says, ‘train’, you say, ‘Yes, it’s a big red train’.

  • Show interest in your baby’s babbling and talking by looking her in the eye and giving lots of smiles. 

  • Read and tell stories with your baby.

  • Share songs and nursery rhymes.

  • Praise your baby’s efforts to talk – for example, if your baby points to a dog and names it, you could say, ‘Well done for pointing out the dog, Jun Jie!’.

Diaper-changing is a great time for some face-to-face conversation with your baby – try talking, singing and looking at baby’s face as you change the diaper.

Concerns about baby talking

If you have concerns about your child’s language development – for example, your baby doesn’t babble or doesn’t seem to listen when others are talking – you can talk to a child health professional. Health professionals can help you and your child work on many language and speech problems.

Sometimes delays in communication skills can be signs of more serious developmental disorders or developmental delay, including
language delay, hearing impairment, intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder. If you’re concerned, talk to your paediatrician or General Practitioner (GP) or another health professional.

Video: Connecting and communicating (0-6 months)

Watch this video and learn the importance of communicating with your baby, and how it helps her learn and develop.

Video: Connecting and communicating (7-17 months)

Watch this video and learn the importance of communicating with your baby, and how it helps her learn language.