dad and toddler

Find out when your child might first start talking, and what you can do to help along their first attempts at communication.

You can expect to hear pearls of wisdom – or at least recognisable words – from your baby around the 12 to 18 month mark.

Encourage these first tentative words by chatting to your baby yourself, listening and answering back when they ‘talk’. It can also help if you can recognise child language stages and when they might reach them. You obviously won’t be expecting the sonnets of Shakespeare when they’re still in nappies, for example.

When will my baby talk?

Eager as you might be to hear your baby talk, there’s no set time for when to whip out your phone to capture their first words.

By 12 to 18 months, your baby will start to use language in a more recognisable way and you may start to hear them talking. You might find at first that only you and a few of your baby’s favourite people can make out what they’re saying. But it’s wonderful after all this time to hear them finally get across what’s been going on in their little heads.

Your baby will also become more sociable at this age. You might have a chatterbox on your hands.

Singing nursery rhymes with actions like ‘incey-wincey-spider’ will help connect words to actions. It’ll also help your child to understand and remember words. Aha, so that’s why nursery rhymes have been such a hit for centuries.

Baby speech development by 18 months

Toddlers develop skills at different rates, and to begin with their speech might only be recognisable to adults who often spend time with them. But by 18 months, their language will be rapidly improving and there are a few things you would expect them to be able to do:

  • Enjoy playing games like peek-a-boo and pat-a-cake.
  • Have fun playing with toys that make a noise.
  • Start to understand a few simple words, like ‘drink’, ‘shoe’ and ‘car’.
  • They might recognise simple instructions like 'kiss mummy', 'kick ball' and 'give me’.
  • Point to things when asked, like familiar people and objects such as ‘book’ and ‘ball’.
  • Use up to 20 simple words, such as 'cup', 'daddy' and 'dog'.
  • 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.

(Talking Point, 2013a)

Speech and language skills usually develop from a very early age. Some children don’t develop the early skills they need and you should speak to a GP or paediatrician if you are concerned.

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’.

(Talking Point, 2013b)

How can I help my toddler talk?

Your baby will develop at their own rate, and you can’t force them to articulate words before they’re ready. But there are lots of things you can do to encourage your child’s fledgling communication.

Nursery rhymes with actions 

Ones like ‘incey-wincey-spider’ are not only fun, but help your child associate words with actions. They’ll also help your child understand and remember words. Ditto games like ‘pat-a-cake’ and ‘peek-a-boo’.

Games with 'more' or ‘again'

These can also help attention and communication as your child comes to know what to expect.

Toys and objects that make a noise

Beeping cars or fire engine sirens, can encourage children’s attention and listening skills. Noisy books and tapes are good too, and something you can both do together.

Try to tell your baby what you’re doing 

When your child starts communicating, you might be tempted to ask them lots of questions. (You have been waiting a long time to find out if they really like Mr Quackers or Little Bunny best after all.)

But bombarding them with questions can feel like you’re testing them. So boost communication instead by telling them about what you’re doing, such as ‘daddy is putting shoes on’. This will help them to connect words to the world around them.

Describe the objects your child points to

This could be their toys, clothes, parts of their body or household objects. To us it’s very obvious what a chair is, but your child doesn’t yet know the name of this big thing that people sit on.

If they try to say the word, repeat it to them 

The more your child hears a word, the quicker they will remember it. When they do start saying words regularly, repeat the words back to them when they mispronounce them. This will happen a lot.

(I Can, 2010; NHS, 2017)

It’s incredible the information that your child is absorbing, so try not to rush them. You can both enjoy the wonderful moments when your child starts talking more and more.

This page was last reviewed in July 2018.

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.

I Can. (2010) Talk together. http://www.talkingpoint.org.uk/sites/talkingpoint.org.uk/files/Talk%20together%202010.pdf [Accessed 1st October 2018]

NHS. (2017) Help your baby learn to talk. Available from: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/Pages/helping-your-childs-speech.aspx [Accessed 1st October 2017]

Talking Point. (2013a) 12-18 Months. Available from: http://www.talkingpoint.org.uk/ages-and-stages/12-18-months [Accessed 1st October 2017]

Talking Point. (2013b) Things to look out for. Available from: http://www.talkingpoint.org.uk/ages-and-stages/12-18-months/things-look-out [Accessed 1st October 2017]

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