Most children say their first word between 12 and 14 months old and have between 1 and 3 words by the time they are around 15 months. According to speech and language experts, The Speech Sisters, only about 25% of children have 14 or more words at 12 months.

Remember, babies begin understanding, babbling, and using gestures before saying recognizable words. Around 11 to 13 months, your baby will likely understand between 20 and 100 words. For example, when you call them by name, they may look at you, or when you say, “Want me to pick you up?” they may reach for you.

You’ll know your baby is getting ready to talk when their babble takes on more intonation and rhythm, and they’re using longer strings of varied syllables. You might hear a rise at the end of a series of babble, indicating a question. Or your baby may babble and then look at you expectantly, as they wait for you to respond to what they’ve said.

What counts as a first word? 

Officially, your baby’s word is recognizable, used in context, spoken independently, and used more than once. Speech and language experts break this down further by explaining that word approximations like ‘ba’ for ‘bottle,’ animal sounds, and words like ‘uh-oh’ count too. 

How can I help my baby begin talking?

  • Talk to them often and slowly, using a higher-pitched voice. 
  • Tune into their vocalizations and attempts to communicate by responding to them as if you understand.
  • Repeat keywords like ‘up,’ names of family members, ‘uh-oh,’ and favourite foods.
  • Read your baby’s cues and teach them the word they want to say. For example, if they say ‘ba, ba, ba’ while looking around, and you think they might be looking for their bottle, ask them and repeat the word. Say, ‘Do you want your bottle? I see your bottle right here. Here’s your bottle. Bottle.’ 

What if my baby hasn’t started talking yet?

Just because they don’t have a spoken word at 12 months doesn’t necessarily mean your baby isn’t on track. If your baby’s babble and chatter are progressing and they’re engaged with you, they may just need a little more time. Talk to your paediatrician about any concerns you may have.

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