Green Leaves

From her very first cry, your baby is a capable communicator, even without words. Language skills involve speaking, of course, but also include body language and gestures, which are essential for proper communication. Infants learn to speak at their own pace, but you can help further her verbal abilities through activities and play.

Year 1: Language-Learning Development

Your baby will develop language and communication skills in stages. Every child is different, but there are some milestones to look for during the first year.

0-3 Months
While your baby still has a while to go before she can speak, she is definitely watching and learning as the people around her communicate—especially her parents.

Some things to look for:

  • Smiling
  • Cooing and gurgling sounds
  • Turning the head towards different sounds
  • Crying differently for different needs
  • Seemingly recognizing your voice

4-6 Months
Many babies in this phase are beginning to learn different ways to communicate as they experiment with the different sounds in their environment.

Some things to look for:

  • Laughing
  • Using her voice to express happiness or displeasure
  • Babbling and gurgling, even when alone
  • Apparent mimicking of sounds she hears frequently
  • Noticing and responding to the sounds of toys
  • Responding to changes in the tone of your voice

7-10 Months
At this age, your baby’s attempts at vocal communication are becoming more obvious. That’s because she’s making intentional attempts to communicate with you vocally as she acquires more skills and abilities.

Some things to look for:

  • Understanding of basic words, like “no” and “bye-bye”
  • Using a wider range of consonants and vowels
  • Copying gestures and sounds
  • Making sounds like “bababa” and “dadada”
  • Pointing at things and people

10-12 Months
Many babies are starting to understand some simple commands and requests during this phase. They’re also imitating more of the sounds they hear as they develop basic language skills.

Some things to look for:

  • Responding to simple requests like “stop” and “put that down”
  • Following simple instructions, like “come here”
  • Saying a few words, like “mama,” “dada,” and “uh-oh”
  • Recognizing words for simple objects, like “shoe”
  • Immediately imitating sounds
  • Tone changes in the sounds she makes (sounds more like speech)

All babies will develop at a different pace, but it’s important to mention these milestones and how your baby is progressing when you speak with your child’s doctor during each appointment. They can help you understand what to expect next.

Supporting Your Baby’s Language Development

There are many easy ways to help your baby develop language comprehension and communication skills during her first year. Try some of these simple exercises and tips:

  • Talk to your baby frequently
  • Read to your baby and point at the pictures you’re reading about
  • When your baby points at something, tell her what it is she’s pointing at
  • Imitate your baby’s sounds and encourage her to imitate you—pretend to have a conversation 
  • Praise her when she imitates you
  • Describe what you’re doing when she’s watching you, like “washing dishes” or “folding clothes”
  • Point out colors and shapes
  • Add on to what your baby says. If she says, “mama,” respond with, “Mama loves you! Where is baby? Here is baby!”
  • Describe what you’re doing with baby when you give her a bath, change her diaper, clothe her, or take her places
  • Sing simple songs

Important milestones: your child by one year. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Updated June 19, 2018. Accessed April 22, 2019.

Language development: speech milestones for babies. Mayo Clinic website. Updated March 7, 2019. Accessed April 22, 2019.

Your baby’s first words. WebMD website. Accessed April 22, 2019.

Child development: infants (0-1 year of age). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Updated February 6, 2019. Accessed April 22, 2019.

Activities to encourage speech and language development. ASHA website. Accessed April 22, 2019.

Luckenbill J. 12 ways to support language development for infants and toddlers. NAEYC website. Accessed April 22, 2019.