Here’s the usual disclaimer: “normal” can be a pretty hard concept to pin down in babies’ development because there is such a range of ages that still fall under the umbrella of perfectly healthy learning. Still, there is a basic timeline for the usual stages of learning to speak that babies move through.
Cooing and crying
Baby’s cries are their first way of communicating. Over time, you may have started to notice that different cries communicate different needs. Around 3 months, Baby may have started ‘cooing,’ their first attempt to imitate language. A great way to encourage them to coo more is to respond with a smile, and to talk back to them – either by imitating them or by talking back in your normal tone of voice. They will love the interaction.
As Baby starts to become more aware of the world around them, they will start to experiment with different things they can do with their mouth – like making repetitive sounds which imitate speech patterns like “bah bah bah” or “gah gah gah,” or trying to eat rocks. The imitation of speech patterns often happens sometime around 6 to 9 months, though the rock-eating can happen at any time. Studies indicate that you can help babbling arrive sooner just by talking to Baby more – especially if you make eye-contact with them and speak to them clearly and directly. More than that, to speed up the variety of sounds Baby knows, you can say other repeating sounds to or around them, like “ma ma ma” or “la la la,” to give them the chance to pick it up.
Starting to understand
Around the time Baby is 8 months old, or a little older, they are probably starting to understand a lot of the simple, often-used words in their life, like “no,” “yes,” the names of favorite toys, “bye,” or “good night,” even if they can’t use these words themself yet. Around this time, they are also very aware of their environment, and the responses they get back, including the word “no.” They may be testing limits at this point, but it’s a good idea to try to limit how often they hear “no,” so they isn&;t discouraged from exploring.
The first few words that make their way into Baby’s vocabulary may be the names they call their parents, the names of objects, and simple verbs, like “eat,” or “go.” They may also be able to understand simple sentences and follow simple instructions and requests. This stage often happens around a year to 18 months.
By around 2, Baby will probably be able to make themself understood using gestures and simple sentences, and may be starting to learn inflections as well. At this point, they understand a lot more than they can speak, and they&;s learning more every day, so every word you say counts.