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Learning to talk

5-minute read

Key facts

  • Learning to talk is an important part of your child's development.
  • Babies learn to communicate by watching and listening to the adults around them.
  • Your baby might communicate by crying or babbling, which help them develop their speech skills.
  • As your baby grows, they should develop their language skills.
  • You can help your child learn to talk by speaking to them, reading to them, and interacting with them.

Learning to talk is an important part of a child's development. Learning how to communicate clearly using words and language takes practice and repetition over a very long time.

As a parent, it can help to understand how your baby develops their own unique communication skills.

How do babies learn to talk?

Babies learn to communicate by listening to the people around them, especially their parents. They will:

  • listen to you talk
  • watch your facial expressions

Even young babies learn to recognise their parents' voices.

When should my baby's speech develop?

As your child develops, they will learn more about language, and communicate in their own way.

See below for what you can expect as your child grows and learns to talk.

From birth to 6 months of age

Crying is the main way young babies communicate their needs. It's important that you respond to your crying baby. This helps to teach them about communication.

Your baby will also start to communicate with others by using sounds and gestures, such as:

  • cooing
  • gurgling
  • pointing
  • laughing
  • blowing raspberries

These form the building blocks of speech. Your baby will also learn to:

  • make eye contact
  • make facial expressions

From 6 to 9 months of age

At this age, your baby will start to babble. Babbling is a phase of speech development.

They might start to sound out syllables, such as 'baba'. Around this age they may also learn to wave.

From 9 to 12 months of age

Your baby's babbling may sound closer to words at this age. They will try new sounds, and might say words such as:

  • ma-ma
  • da-da

They may also start to:

  • respond to their name
  • respond to simple requests
  • recognise simple words, even if they can't say them yet

From 12 to 24 months of age

Toddlers will learn to form clearer words, such as 'dog' and 'ball'. They will start to put words together.

Your child will also start to try and copy your sentences.

By around 2 years of age, they should be able to say up to 50 words and understand many more.

Between 3 and 4 years of age

As they begin to learn language, your child will become more curious. They will learn to ask questions, and use larger sentences.

You may also see them chat to themselves and 'play make-believe'. Toddlers will also join in rhymes and songs and recognise familiar patterns in books.

Their speech should be clear enough to be understood by anyone.

Between 4 and 5 years of age

By this age, your child will have become much clearer in their speech. They will have more complex communication, such as:

  • speaking in imaginary situations, like 'I hope this happens'
  • making up words for fun
  • using toilet words such as 'poo'
  • saying their name, age and address if they have been taught them
  • making up stories

Most children in this age group can have a conversation with an adult and be clear.

They should be able to tell you what is wrong and to have a simple conversation.

How can I help my baby to learn to talk?

There are things you can do to help you child learn to speak.

You can:

  • speak clearly to your child every day, using their name, and watch their response
  • imitate their sounds
  • show interest when they try to speak to you, even if they trip over their words
  • name things when you do or use them
  • praise them when they learn a new word
  • speak to them at their eye level so they can see your mouth move, to help them copy you
  • read to your baby every day, using books with big, bright pictures

When should I be concerned about my baby's speech development?

Check your baby's Child Health Record book to make sure they passed their hearing test at birth. Sometimes a second test is recommended. If so, the hearing test will need to be repeated in a few weeks.

Hearing loss for any reason can cause delays in learning to talk.

'Red flag' stages of speech development

Every baby is unique and develops in their own time. Many factors play a role in how children learn to talk.

Spotting speech delays or problems early can make a big difference in getting the right level of support.

Keep an eye out for 'red flags'. These are signs that may indicate problems in the early stages of a baby's development.

Take your baby to see a doctor if:

  • you have any concerns about your child's development
  • your child doesn't react to sights or sounds
  • your child doesn't babble or make many noises
  • they don't seem equally strong on both sides of their body
  • they are not interacting with you or other people
  • they have limited eye contact
  • they seem floppy, or stiff and tense

You should also see a doctor or speech therapist if you child is stuttering.

Resources and support

Check with your child health nurse if you have any concerns about your baby's development. Your doctor will also be able to refer your child for assessment and treatment if it's needed.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: May 2023

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Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

Need further advice or guidance from our maternal child health nurses?

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