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Baby’s first word will always be an exciting milestone for parents. But all babies are different, and some will start talking earlier than others. And remember, your baby will be communicating with you in lots of different ways before they can talk.

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How will my baby communicate with me before they can talk?

Although babies under 1 are unlikely to be using words yet, they will be communicating with you in lots of ways. In fact, babies are born ready to communicate and interact with you and will ‘chat’ with their parents and others around them using actions, expressions and sounds.

As they grow, they begin to learn important communication skills from the everyday interactions they have with you. In the first year of life, babies are learning how to take turns, listen, and play with you. They begin to learn that interacting and communicating is rewarding. By talking, playing, singing and reading with your baby, you’re helping to build their communication skills. Our page on baby communication has lots of tips on how you can help your baby develop these important skills.

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At what age do babies babble and coo?

Babbling is an early stage of your baby learning how to talk. Babies start to gurgle and coo in their first few months of life. As they move towards 6 months old, they start to babble and make noises such as ‘bababa’. This is how babies make the mouth shapes and sounds used for speech. It also helps them to learn about taking turns in interactions with you. 

Repeating these sounds back to them is a good way of helping them find their voice and get used to communicating with you. And when your baby makes sounds or gestures, you can talk back to them as though they’ve said something. You can also try reading to them, singing nursery rhymes and talking to them as you go about your day – it doesn’t matter what you say, your baby will love it, and hearing your words will help them their speech and language development. Have a look at the Scottish Book Trust’s Song and Rhyme Librarry for some ideas.

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Photo of a mum and toddler playing on the couch

In the coming months the sounds your baby makes will start to resemble real words like ‘mama’ and ‘dada’ although your baby might not associate these sounds with their real meanings yet. 
You can help your baby to learn new words by repeating back to them what you think they’re trying to say. For example, if your baby says ‘baba’ you could say: ‘Ball. Yes, a ball’. This will help them to connect their sounds with real words. With enough practice and encouragement from you, your baby’s babble will eventually form into their first words. 

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When will they say their first words?

There isn’t a magic age when babies start talking. Usually they’ll start saying their first words somewhere between 12 and 15 months, although some are nearer 18 months before they say their first words. Initially your baby might only be saying one or two words and these tend to be names of family members (like ‘mama’ and ‘dada’) or a favourite pet or toy. Don’t worry if these words aren't clear yet, any attempts at words should be praised and encouraged. Repeating sounds and words your baby makes will help to show you’re listening and will let your baby hear the words they’re trying to say.

Although a baby’s first words mark an important milestone in their development, there are other key skills to look out for that will help them to develop language. Listening and understanding come before talking and clear words. Being able to take part in short back and forth interactions with you, understanding words and using sounds and gestures are all important skills in their development of language.

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How can I encourage my wee one to start talking?

Babies learn language from the words they hear around them and the interactions they have with their parents and other adults every day. So you can encourage your baby to say their first words by talking to them lots! Try to be at your baby's level, face to face with them, so you have that lovely connection with them. Point out and name things your baby seems interested in or can see around them. Babies need to hear words repeated in different contexts before they will understand and use the word. Reading books and singing songs and rhymes with your baby are really important for developing their language skills. 

If they look away from you they may be tired and need a break from ‘chatting’ or they may just be processing everything – sounds and movements are a lot to take in when you’re wee! So let them rest for a bit and then try again.

Our page on encouraging your baby to talk has more tips.

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Should I worry that my baby isn’t talking?

It’s important to remember that all babies will develop their language skills at different rates. By helping them to listen, play and interact with you, you’re building their understanding of words and helping them to learn about the skills they need for communication. 

There are some milestones you can look out for to help guide you. 

Babies around 6 months will start to communicate with you using gestures and actions like smiling and clapping. They will start using sounds, expressions and babble. When your baby makes sounds or gestures, you can talk back to them as though they have said something – it doesn’t matter what you say, your baby will love it!

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Baby and dad playing with toys on play mat

By one year old, the sounds they make will start to sound more like real words (like ‘mama’ and ‘dada’) and they might even copy sounds back from you. They’ll also show they can understand some familiar words like ‘no’ and be able to respond to their name. Your baby might also be using gestures and actions such as clapping or pointing, and experimenting with sounds and using some babble. By around 15 months your baby should be using some single words. Our page on the stages of talking has more information.

If you’re concerned that your baby isn’t responding to you or showing an interest in interacting and communicating with you then speak to your health visitor for advice. You can find out more about what to expect with your child’s language development by using the ICAN progress checker.

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My twins are talking in their own language, what should I do?

Children often to make up their own language. It can be a way for them to experiment with speech and make their needs known. This is especially true for twins, who will often reinforce each other’s attempts at words. Some studies suggest that as many as half of twin pairs might develop what sounds like their own language. Don’t worry, you’ll notice this starts to reduce between 18 months and two years.

Try to point out and name things that your babies are interested in and make lots of opportunities for them to interact with you or other adults one to one. Respond to your babies’ attempts at language and try and put into words what they’re saying to you. Hearing you speak will help them to start producing more accurate attempts at words.

You can find more tips for helping your twins or triplets develop their language skills on the Twins Trust website. If you’re concerned about your twins’ language development, please speak to your health visitor.

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My baby is being exposed to two languages – will this affect their speech and language development?

Research has shown that bilingualism, or growing up being exposed to two languages, is beneficial for children's development and their future.  For more information visit the Bilingualism Matters and Hanen Centre websites. 

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