Boots WebMD Partners in Health
Return To Boots

Babies start to understand some words long before they start to talk themselves.

Just by listening to you speaking to them, and babbling themselves, they're preparing for saying their first word.

All babies are different, but this can be any time from around a year old. The gurgles and coos develop into "mama" or "dada", and other words.

Having baby talk with your baby helps encourage their communication skills.

Early speech and language skills are associated with success in developing reading, writing and personal skills, both later in childhood and later in life.

Smile and pay attention

Long before they can speak clearly, babies understand the general meaning of what you're saying. They also absorb your emotional tone. Encourage your baby's early attempts to communicate with you with loving attention.

  • Smile often at your baby, especially when your baby is cooing, gurgling or otherwise vocalising with baby talk.
  • Look at your baby as the little one babbles and laughs, rather than looking away, interrupting or talking with someone else.
  • Be patient as you try to decode your infant's baby talk and nonverbal communication such as facial expressions, gurgling or babbling sounds that can signal either frustration or joy.
  • Make time to give your baby lots of loving attention so your baby can 'speak' to you with baby talk, even when you're busy with other tasks.

Imitate your baby

From the start, baby talk should be a two-way process. By imitating your baby you'll send an important message: what your baby is feeling and trying to communicate matters to you.

  • Have back-and-forth conversations in baby talk to teach your baby the give-and-take of adult conversation.
  • Imitate your baby's vocalisations - "ba-ba" or "goo-goo" - then wait for your baby to make another sound, and say it back.
  • Do your best to respond, even when you don't understand what your baby is trying to say.
  • Reinforce communication by smiling and mirroring your baby's facial expressions.
  • Because gestures are a way babies try to communicate, imitate your baby's gestures as well.

Talk often to your baby

Babies love to hear you talk - especially to them, and especially in a warm, happy voice. Babies learn to speak by imitating the sounds they hear around them. So the more you talk to your baby, the faster your baby will acquire speech and language skills.

  • Adults naturally use a special tone of voice when talking baby talk - a high-pitched voice with exaggerated expression. This natural baby talk mimics the female voice, which babies the world over associate with feeding and comfort. Rest assured that talking "baby talk" won't prevent or delay your infant from learning adult speech later.
  • Engage your baby's listening skills by talking often to your baby throughout your day, describing your activities together. Talk as you're feeding, dressing, carrying and bathing your baby, so the infant begins to associate these sounds of language with everyday objects and activities.
  • Repeat simple words such as 'mama' and 'bottle' often and clearly so your baby begins to hear familiar words and associate them with their meaning.

First-year baby games

From peek-a-boo to pat-a-cake! The top games to help your baby learn.
read article