How to help your baby say their first words and beyond
First words. Such a big and wonderful milestone for your little baby! What will it be? Mama? Dada? Or something random (one of my baby’s first words was ‘light’!).
What counts as a word??
Those first words won’t be very clear. It can therefore be tricky to tell if it is a word or not! You might be saying to each other…..’did she say….?’ ‘I swear he just said……!’.
Around 6-8 months of age, your baby will start babbling. As they get better and better at this skill, they will start to refine and shorten the string of syllables they’re producing to sound more like the words you are modelling to them.
It can be considered a word when your baby says it independently (i.e. without copying you) and in context (e.g. they look at mama and say ‘mama’, or call out for ‘mama’).
It’s also considered a word when you hear them say it roughly the same way each time (e.g. ‘bah’ for ball).
No one else can understand these words but me!
Don’t worry if these words aren’t very clear at all and you and your partner at the only ones to understand them. Speech sounds are the last skill to develop in the ‘communication pyramid’. First your baby needs to be able to understand and use words, then they work on refining their production of the sounds in their words. It is very common for babies and young children to have speech sound errors up until about 6 years of age. If you’re interested to learn more, check out our blog on speech sound development for a table indicating which sounds develop when, and for more information on the communication pyramid I referred to above.
Those first words will typically have the last sound ‘omitted’ (e.g. ‘do_’ for ‘dog’ or ‘ca_’ for ‘cat’).
How can I help my baby produce their first words?
There are so many simple strategies you can use to support your baby’s first words and beyond. Your baby has been listening to you talk to them from the day they were born and they have been learning all about language since then.
My two favourite tips?
- Keep your language simple
Use single words and simple sounds to comment on what your baby is doing. This helps them learn and understand the word and they are more likely to copy the word. It’s much easier to copy ‘ball’ when heard alone, rather than in a big sentence like ‘You’re playing with the spotty ball!’.
- Turn your questions into comments
Questions are more difficult to understand than a comment. At this early stage of talking, your baby is unlikely to answer a question and instead has heard a lot of different words, and a question word too, which is difficult to understand (as it doesn’t relate to a ‘thing’ they can see).
A comment, however, gives them words that capture what they are doing. It labels what they are looking at, and they are much more likely to learn a word when they hear it in a comment and more likely to copy it (if they are ready to).
SO….try to turn your questions into comments!
Written by Chiara Prigmore, Speech Pathologist from Walky Talky Baby.
Walky Talky Baby is an online community run by Chiara and Alison (Physiotherapist). They provide information and support to parents to help them feel confident supporting their child’s gross motor and communication skills in the early years.
Their online memberships, Walky Talky Baby and Walky Talky Toddler, are full of information to support each stage of gross motor and communication development, plus you can ask them questions anytime.
You can also follow them on Instagram @walkytalky_baby for loads of free information and tips for supporting your baby’s development.
Chiara is a Paediatric Speech Pathologist registered with Speech Pathology Australia, with 15 years experience in Perth and London.
Her professional passion is in early intervention and she loves supporting parents to help their child achieve communication milestones.
Her latest venture as mother of two has made her even more driven to support parents through these early years.