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 his 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,’ his first attempt to imitate language. A great way to encourage him to coo more is to respond with a smile, and to talk back to him – either by imitating him or by talking back in your normal tone of voice. He will love the interaction.
As Baby starts to become more aware of the world around him, he will start to experiment with different things he can do with his 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 him and speak to him clearly and directly. More than that, to speed up the variety of sounds Baby knows, you can say other repeating sounds to or around him, like “ma ma ma” or “la la la,” to give him the chance to pick it up.
Starting to understand
Around the time Baby is 8 months old, or a little older, he is probably starting to understand a lot of the simple, often-used words in his life, like “no,” “yes,” the names of favorite toys, “bye,” or “good night,” even if he can’t use these words himself yet. Around this time, he is also very aware of his environment, and the responses he gets back, including the word “no.” He may be testing limits at this point, but it’s a good idea to try to limit how often he hears “no,” so he isn&;t discouraged from exploring.
The first few words that make their way into Baby’s vocabulary may be the names he calls his parents, the names of objects, and simple verbs, like “eat,” or “go.” He 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 himself understood using gestures and simple sentences, and may be starting to learn inflections as well. At this point, he understands a lot more than he can speak, and he&;s learning more every day, so every word you say counts.