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