dad and toddler

A baby’s first words are usually heard between 12 and 18 months. You can encourage speech development with baby talk and by recognising child language development stages.

When will my baby talk?

At 12 to 18 months, children will start to use language in a more recognisable way and you may start to hear your baby talking. They will also become more sociable. Singing nursery rhymes with actions like ‘incey-wincey-spider’ will help connect words to actions and help your child to understand and remember words.

Baby speech development 

Toddlers develop skills at different rates, but by 18 months, they will usually:

  • Enjoy games like peek-a-boo and pat-a-cake and toys that make a noise.
  • Start to understand a few simple words, like ‘drink’, ‘shoe’ and ‘car’. Also simple instructions like 'kiss mummy', 'kick ball' and 'give me'.
  • Point to things when asked, like familiar people and objects such as ‘book’ and ‘car’.
  • Use up to 20 simple words, such as 'cup', 'daddy' and 'dog'. These words may not always be easily recognised by unfamiliar adults. At this stage a child's language development is rapidly improving.
  • Gesture or point, often with words or sounds to show what they want.
  • Copy lots of things that adults say and gestures that they make.
  • Start to enjoy simple pretend play, for example pretending to talk on the phone.

Speech and language skills develop from a very early age. However, some children don’t develop the early skills they need. Parents should speak to a GP, health visitor or speech and language therapist if:

  • Their child has not started to babble to communicate by 12 to 15 months.
  • They are not saying their first words by 18 months.
  • They do not respond well to language, such as not following simple instructions like ‘kick ball’.

If you have any concerns, you should speak to your health visitor, GP or paediatrician.

How can I help my toddler talk?

There are lots of things you can do to encourage your child at this stage:

  • Sing nursery rhymes with actions like ‘incey-wincey-spider’. Play games like ‘pat-a-cake’ and ‘peek-a-boo’. These connect words to actions and help your child to understand and remember words. Games with 'more' or ‘again' can also help attention and communication.
  • Toys and objects that make a noise, noisy books and tapes help children's attention and listening skills.
  • Asking lots of questions can feel like it’s a test, so talk to your baby about what you’re doing instead, such as ‘Daddy is putting shoes on’. This will help them to connect words to the world around them.
  • If your child is pointing at something, tell them what it is. If they try to say the word, say it back to them.
  • Name the objects your child sees. This could be their toys, clothes, parts of their body or household objects. The more your child hears a word, the quicker they will remember it.

This article was written using information provided by I CAN, the children’s communication charity and the Talking Point website.

Further information

Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.

You might find attending one of NCT's Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.

Download I CAN's free First Words Poster and stages of development poster, if you want to find out more about what to expect at different ages and stages.

You can also find lots more useful information and resources from I CAN.

Read The Psychology of Babies: How relationships support development from birth to two by Lynne Murray (published by Constable Robinson).

Take a look at the National Literacy Trust’s website which has information about early communication skills.

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