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At What Age Do Babies Start Speaking?

by Maggie McCormick, studioD

As you try to console your wailing bundle of joy, it's only natural to wonder when she might start talking so that she'll be able to tell you what's wrong. Speaking is one of the developmental milestones that parents most look forward to. As with other aspects of development, there is a wide range of what is considered normal, but it's smart to be prepared for what to expect.

Newborn Communication

Though it may all just seem like noise, newborns do have their own methods of communication and, if you pay close attention, you'll notice that your baby has different types of cries to demonstrate her needs. A hungry cry may be low, for example, while an overstimulated cry may be more dramatic and persist until she falls asleep.

Sounds and Babbling

By 6 months of age, your baby should be "speaking" in vowel sounds, and she will then begin to add consonants, called babbling. For example, she might be saying "mamamamama" or "babababababa." As she approaches a year, she might even start to imitate the sounds you make, and you'll swear that you heard her say "cookie" or "all done." Don't get too excited yet, though, as these aren't real words that have meaning to your child yet. She's just experimenting with her voice and making sounds.

First Words

Toddlers start to say simple nouns like "mama" or "dog" around 1 year of age, though sometimes only the parent can understand what they're saying. It's at this point that the words start to have meaning to the child. However, your child's first word may come earlier or later and still fall into the realm of normal. By 18 months, she should be able to say around 20 words and by 2 years, she should be able to say around 50 words, according to KidsHealth.org.

Beyond First Words

Between 1 and 2 years old, your child should begin to speak more, stringing short two- or three-word sentences together. For example, she might say, "Me nana" to mean "I want a banana" or "Doggie fast" to indicate that she sees a dog running. More significant verbal growth tends to happen between the ages of 2 and 3, with your child speaking in more complex sentences and adding many new words to her vocabulary.

When to Worry

Despite the wide variation among children when it comes to speaking skills, you should still take note if your child seems to be a bit behind for his age. Children who are older than 18 months should at least attempt to communicate verbally, even if you don't always understand what they're saying. And a child who's 2 years old should be able to say words on her own, rather than simply repeating the words of others. If you have any concerns about your child's verbal ability, be sure to bring them up with your pediatrician.

About the Author

Maggie McCormick is a freelance writer. She lived in Japan for three years teaching preschool to young children and currently lives in Honolulu with her family. She received a B.A. in women's studies from Wellesley College.

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