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Learning words: babies from 6 to 12 months

Here we look at babbling, gesturing and baby language development from 6 to 12 months. At this stage, babies are developing quickly and will gesture and recognise key words.

The more babies experience conversation and language, the more effective and confident they become in their own communication. Understanding your child’s language development can be really helpful in learning how to respond to their needs supportively.

Your baby will start to listen more carefully at around six months and look at you when you speak and when their name is called. Children generally use gesture to communicate before they use words, often between nine and 12 months. These gestures can be a sign of the early stages of spoken language.

Communication and speech development in children

Children develop skills at different rates, but by one year, they will usually:

  • Listen carefully, and turn to someone talking on the other side of the room.
  • Look at you when you speak and when their name is called.
  • As a part of baby speech and language development, children will babble strings of sounds, like ‘no-no’ and ‘go-go’.
  • Make noises, point and look at you to get your attention.
  • Smile at people who are smiling at them.
  • Start to understand words like 'bye-bye' and 'up' especially when a gesture is used at the same time.
  • Recognise the names of familiar objects, things like ‘car’ and ‘daddy’.
  • Enjoy action songs and rhymes and get excited when sung to.
  • Take turns in conversations, babbling back to an adult.

Speech and language skills develop from a very early age. However, some children don’t develop the early skills they need. This can be very difficult to spot from an early age. However, you should talk to a GP or health visitor if your child does not:

  • Respond to noises by nine months.
  • Point to things they are interested in by one year.
  • Try to gain your attention by making noises or through eye contact, facial expressions or reaching by one year.

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

How can parents encourage language development?

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

  • Make different sounds to interest your child. This can be the sound of your voice or things like a rattle or squeaky toy.
  • Pointing to sounds will help develop your child’s listening skills. This will also help their awareness of the world around them.
  • Encourage your child to look at you during activities, such as dressing, feeding or nappy changing. This will help your child's attention and communication skills.
  • Talk about everyday activities, like getting dressed, eating and bathing.
  • Copy your baby when they are babbling. This is a very good way to show how to take turns in communication. This will encourage them to make even more sounds.
  • Use actions with words. Try waving as you say 'bye-bye' or picking up their cup as you say 'drink'. This will help your child to relate what they see and do with language.
  • Sing action songs and play games like ‘peek-a-boo’ to encourage communication and attention skills.
  • Have some special time with your child each day to play with toys and picture books.

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

Further information

NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 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.