When Do Babies Start Talking?

baby speech timelines

Verywell / Jiaqi Zhou

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Talking is one of the most exciting baby milestones, but also one parents are most likely to stress about. We wait all those months for our babies to begin telling us what is on their minds. After all, not being able to understand how they’re feeling is one of the most nerve-wracking aspects of caring for little ones.

But as we wait for our babies to utter their first cute words, we may become overwhelmed with concerns: When exactly will my baby start talking? Why is it taking so long? Do those incomprehensible babbles count? What if my baby’s speech is delayed? Is something wrong with my baby?

These questions (and more) are common for parents of little ones to have. Let’s take a look at what to expect when it comes to your baby’s language skills, and what to do if you have any concerns.

Your Baby’s Early Communication

Even though it may not really seem like it, your baby is communicating with you as soon as they are born. Crying is the one of the only ways they have to communicate at first, but it’s certainly a powerful one.

In time, most parents are able to understand what their baby's cries mean, as well as how to meet their needs before the crying even starts. This back and forth between parent and child is the first way you teach your baby how to communicate and connect with you.

Besides crying, there are other ways your baby communicates with you in their first few months, and these are all precursors to language development. Here’s what to know about those early language milestones, according to CDC guidelines:

  • At two months, your baby will start turning their head to you when you speak; they may also start making cooing and gurgling sounds.
  • By four months, your baby will start babbling, and may even begin to copy some of the sounds and intonations you are making. Your baby will also differentiate their crying so it becomes easier for you to understand what they want.
  • By six months, there is more back and forth between you and your baby. Your baby may respond to your questions and requests with particular sounds, and they should also begin responding to their own names. At this age, their babbling will become more fine-tuned, with more “m” and “b” sounds.

Common First Words

Most babies will say their first word by the time they reach their first birthday. However, some babies may say their first word earlier or later than this.

It’s around this time that you will notice your baby’s receptive language skills—your baby understanding what you are saying—increasing as well. In fact, receptive skills often come before expressive (talking) skills. So if your baby points to things, understands simple instructions (“give Mommy the spoon”), and turns their head when you call out for them, these are very good signs of normal language development.

Common first words contain the “b,” “d,” and “m” sounds, which are easiest for your baby to say, so “mama” or “dada” are usually winners! But there is wide variation, with some babies saying more obscure first words than that.

Your baby may have certain sounds that mean certain things, or more than one thing. For example, “baba” may mean “bottle,” “banana,” and “baby.”

The way you can tell that a sound your baby says is meant to be a word is that they say the word in reference to a particular person or thing, and that they do some with some level of consistency. At one year, babies can point and wave, and they may say this word while pointing and gesturing—shaking their head while saying “no,” or waving while saying “bye.”

When Will They Speak In Sentences?

Babies usually start out by saying just a few words, and there may be weeks and months before new words enter their vocabulary. However, between the ages of 18 months and two years, most babies have a bit of a language explosion, learning about one new word a week.

However, it’s closer to two years when babies really begin “talking”—i.e., stringing their words together into simple sentences. According to the Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP), most two-year-olds will be able to point to pictures in books, people, and common objects and be able to name them.

They will be able to say between 50–100 words, and will start to combine words together to make two word phrases like “all done,” and “play ball.” Some two-year-olds begin to say three word sentences, and others are speaking in paragraphs.

There is a wide range of "normal" here, but by two years old, you should see your child’s language abilities increase, as well as their ability to understand what you are saying, follow simple instructions, and use words and gestures to communicate.

It's also important to note that children who are bilingual (or more) may be "delayed" in speech as they can be confused as to which language to defer to. Often the pediatrician will ask you about languages spoken at home to differentiate between true delays or issues and normal progression.

Signs of Speech Delay

Remember, some babies will speak later than other babies, and some will speak earlier—and that's OK. The dates and numbers are all estimations, and it’s OK if your baby falls outside the estimation. It’s also possible that your baby will have a delay in their expressive speech (talking), but be on track when it comes to receptive speech (understanding).

Having a delay in language is actually quite common; according to the AAP, 1 in 5 children will learn to talk later than children of their age. Sometimes these delays resolve on their own. However, it’s always good to discuss concerns about your child’s language delays with your pediatrician so that they can access if the delay is within the realm of normal or if something else might be going on. 

Sometimes speech delays are indicative of a larger problem, including hearing impairment, developmental delays, or autism spectrum disorders.

If your doctor has any concerns about your child’s speech delay, they may have you fill out a questionnaire about your child’s health and development, ask you a series of questions, and observe your child and interact with them to assess their language development.

They may also refer you to a hearing specialist, a language therapist, or a developmental therapist. If your child needs further assistance, your pediatrician or other specialist may refer your child for an evaluation for an early intervention program.

It may be stressful to bring up your concerns about your child’s language development, but it’s always a good idea to do so. Usually, all you need is a little assurance that everything is within the realm of normal, but sometimes your child may need some assistance. It’s always better to tackle these things earlier than later.

If there are issues, initiating therapies as early as possible is essential. The earlier you bring up your concerns and see if your child needs intervention, the better. In most cases, when intervention is implemented early enough it can make a significant difference in the child's abilities.

 A Word From Verywell

One of the most exciting parts of parenting a baby is getting to witness them reach milestones. There is nothing more delightful than seeing your baby break out into a gummy smile for the first time, and nothing more thrilling (and anxiety-producing!) as watching your baby take their first steps. Your baby’s first babbles, their first word, and their first sentence—these are moments you will remember and savor forever.

Of course, with the anticipation of baby milestones also comes the worries. You worry that your baby isn’t meeting a milestone quickly enough, or that they haven’t mastered the milestone in the correct way. That’s why it’s important to always discuss your worries and concerns with your pediatrician—they can guide you on the right path, and soothe any anxieties that you might have.

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Article Sources
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  • Language Delays in Toddlers: Information for Parents. Healthy Children website. Updated August 24, 2020.

  • Milestone Moments. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Updated December 11, 2020.