The journey of language development in your baby’s first year is quite incredible. Even at birth, the eye to eye contact you can make with your child is striking.
Within a few weeks, you will see the first real baby smiles, but what about baby talk?
Baby’s first noises
Within a couple of weeks you will have begun to understand your baby’s cries, which ones are telling you that your child is hungry, tired, in need of a new nappy, and so on.
By about 10 weeks, your baby will respond to direct contact from you – bright facial expressions and simple chatter, when the room is quiet and there are no other distractions – with short soft grunts of ‘ah’ or ‘eh’.
By about 16 weeks, your baby will bumble with his lips together making simple hard letter (of the alphabet) sounds if he is grizzling and lighter, more open letter sounds when happily babbling to himself. Making buzzing noises with their lips together and dribbling is also something most babies like to do at this stage because it makes a distinctive noise and has a pleasing sensation to them.
Between 6 and 12 months most babies will begin to stretch out those early letter sounds to create what they can muster as ‘words’ in response to a parent’s attention, to something out of their reach that they want, or again to try out the sensation of ‘words’ in their mouths. ‘P’ might become ‘pah’. As this period also sees some of their more painful bouts of teething, some noises may be attempts to alleviate this rather than talking.
Baby’s first words
It might seem a cliché but there is a reason why ‘cat’ or ‘dog’ are a child’s first proper words – these are familiar images in their books, daily life and are words that can be formed relatively easily by experimenting with putting short manageable sounds together.
Before this you might have heard ‘da-da’ or ‘ma-ma’ because understandably, these people are important and dominate a baby’s world. But ‘daddy’ or ‘mummy’ might be a few months off, yet!
First words come along anytime between 12 and 24 months. Some children might say ‘cat’ or a mutation of something like ‘apple’, for example, at 12 or 13 months, but don’t be alarmed if your child doesn’t until 16 months or later.
If your child is communicating with your happily, through hugs, cries and other physical, facial and other oral methods, there is nothing to worry about.
The beginning of ‘sentences’
First words do not connect for three or four months, but feel free to take ‘bye mumma’ as a full-on sentence!
Once your child has started to put two words together – even if these words are still half-words particular to your own child (‘gog’ not dog, for example), he will enjoy a huge leap in communication, and won’t have need of longer sentences for some time.
Longer sentences may appear anytime between two and three years.
What can you do to encourage speech?
Firstly, don’t push it. Be reassuring and communicative with your baby from day one, but don’t use flash cards to turn your baby into a little professor – each child will find their own level in their own time, with positive and kind encouragement.
Remember that, just as with baby weight, each child is different, even in the same family, and simple comparisons with other children of the same age is irrelevant.
Talking in many forms to your child is vital always. From birth, your voice is important, whether you are chatting about what you see in the park, singing nursery rhymes or even reading books.
Think about simple toys and activities for those times when you are both having some ‘mat time’. There are some great toys, but also simple household objects which can help you stimulate your baby.
You might want to try baby signing, an increasingly popular first communication where even fully-hearing children can communicate with basic sign language. It has been proved not to hamper talking (and in many cases, to bring verbal language on earlier than might be expected in an average child).
Lastly, make a note of words – first baby noises, first proper words and half-words, and first sentences. These are individual to each child and are a lovely memory for the years to come.