By: Elyse Schultz M.S., CCC-SLP

The first year of your newborn’s life is full of excitement and “firsts.” Every day, your child is growing and learning from their environment and developing naturally. It seems like in the blink of an eye, your child is having full conversations with you, but when and how does it all begin?  

Language Development

At around 10-12 months, your child should say his/ her first word, but it has been in the works for some time! As early as a few months old, infants begin to develop speech patterns as their cry develops into a string of what seem to be arbitrary sounds. Those “random sounds” actually mean more than you think.

As young as 3 months old, your infant will start to develop language. As their cries, screams, and squeals fine tune to a certain pitch or volume, their expressive language is already developing! You may be able to decipher their needs simply based on their vocalizations without the use of real words yet.

At approximately 4-6 months, your infant should start to add vowels to their speech repertoire and then stretch into some consonants for re-duplicated babbling. Re-duplicated babbling means using double syllables, such as “baba” or “mama.” Before you know it, re-duplicated babbling is turning into variegated babbling, at about 9 months. Variegated babbling is using multiple sound syllables such as “mabama.” A wide variety of sound combinations are at play! Just like that, the babble begins to make sense; at 10-12 months, your infant’s first word emerges!  

First Word

When your baby uses their first “true/real word,” they are using meaningful speech sound combinations consistently. For instance, if he/ she says “mama” or a word approximation for mommy, a ball, and their favorite toy, they are not consistently using this word to carry the same meaning. Thus, it is not a true word yet. When they begin to use “mama” every time they see their mother, or to request for their mother, you know it’s a TRUE word that contains a meaning to them. This is when it gets really exciting, as your child is slowly but surely communicating verbally to meet his/ her wants or needs.  

Receptive Language

While speech and language are typically associated with expressive language (speaking), receptive language (understanding) is just as important. Receptive language actually develops sooner and quicker than expressive language. At 5 months, your child should begin to respond to their name, and then at 7-9 months, they will look at some common objects when the objects’ names are spoken. They also begin to understand “no” at this time. By 10-12 months, when their first word is emerging, they will already understand up to 10 words and give toys upon request.   

It is important to keep an eye out for these developmental milestones so you can intervene as early as possible, if necessary! Keep in mind that these are generally rough markers as every child has a little wiggle room to learn and develop at their own pace.

If intervention does seem necessary for your child, contact us to speak to a qualified professional about speech and language therapy.