Whether you’re a first-time parent or have a growing family, witnessing your infant’s first attempts at communication is truly exciting. As a parent, I vividly remember the joy when my daughters babbled their first “dada” and “mama” sounds and that magical period between babbling and their first words. However, many parents are left wondering how to help their baby learn to talk and extend those early utterances.
Every baby’s journey to speech has unique steps, and no two paths are the same. Even between siblings, the communication journey can be different. What many parents do not realize is that there are simple activities you can do to boost your baby’s vocabulary.
In this article, discover:
The stages of infant babbling
Ways to encourage early speech development
Two simple activities to help your baby talk
What to do if you have concerns about your baby’s speech development
What are the stages of infant babbling?
Infant babbling follows different stages, and while there are general milestones, every child has a unique timeline. If you do have concerns about your baby’s speech development, you can find guidance on what steps to take later in this article.
Here are the typical stages:
1-4 months: Nasal vowel sounds like “gooo”
4-7 months: Growls, squeals, raspberries (lips fluttering and making a sound), vowel sounds, and consonant-vowel combinations like “bah” or “gah”
7-10 months: Babbling with speech-like consonant-vowel combinations such as “baba,” “Mama,” or “Cah”
10-14 months: Babbling mixed with first words, and meaningful babble sounds emerge
How to Help Your Baby Learn to Talk
Parents can play a vital role in fostering their baby’s speech skills with straightforward yet effective methods. Create a rich and stimulating environment by using complete sentences and diverse descriptions when interacting with your baby. Research shows that a vocabulary-rich environment significantly enhances language development.
One way to do this is to use lots of descriptive words when speaking to your baby. For example, when reading a book with a picture of a tiger, you might say something like, “this tiger is big, orange and furry! Wow, he is soft! Feel his fur.”
Music is a fantastic way to encourage speech. Enjoyable songs like “If you’re happy and you know it,” “Wheels on the bus,” and “Old MacDonald” provide ample opportunities for language practice. Singing these songs repeatedly allows your baby to get familiar with the melody and to then start responding.
One example of how this could be used would be to sing “Old MacDonald” with your baby many times so that they get used to the melody, and eventually start pausing for them to respond. So, for example:
-Parent: “Old MacDonald had a farm, E I E I ______”, and look expectantly at your baby.
If your baby does not respond, do not worry! You can wait a few seconds, and then say it for them. After some practice over time, they will likely start to make that sound.
If your baby responds with the incorrect sound, still respond and encourage them! Keep practicing and as they will be able to say the correct sound in time.
Two simple activities to help your baby learn to talk
Here are two simple activities which are supported by research to encourage language development, AND are relatively easy to use!
Help Your Baby Learn to Talk Actvity 1: Talking in Parentese
Take a few minutes to intentionally speak in a sing-songy way to your baby. Use a slightly higher pitched voice, expand and elongate certain sounds within a word. For example, while dropping block toys, say, “Uh oh! Uuuuhhh-OH!” in a playful manner. Remember, parentese can be used by fathers, grandparents, and all caregivers.
Help Your Baby Learn to Talk Activity 2: Contingent Vocal Imitation (CVI)
Make it a fun game with your baby. When they babble or make a speech sound, quickly and accurately copy their sound back to them. Smile and maintain eye contact while doing this. For example, your baby says “bah bah” and you say “bah bah” immediately. Or your baby says “cah” and you say “cah”! CVI not only adds to the fun but has been shown to increase your baby’s vocabulary and language development.
Concerns About Speech Development
Every baby’s development is unique, even among siblings. If you have concerns about your baby’s speech, it’s essential to consult with a licensed professional. Start with your child’s pediatrician, consider a developmental pediatrician, or seek the expertise of a speech-language pathologist (SLP). Many regions provide government-funded services for speech evaluations and assistance.