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Babbling and baby talk

Your baby will start learning about language and how to communicate as soon as they’re born. They’ll listen to you and learn from your tone, facial expressions, body language and daily experiences before they start copying noises and, eventually, speaking simple words.

Over time, they’ll start to connect the right noises and words to actions and develop an understanding of language.

Over the first nine months of life, your baby will start to communicate with you through babbling.

From four months old, they’ll start to gurgle and coo when you speak to them. You’ll learn that each sound has its own meaning, such as hunger or tiredness.

By six months, they’ll be making a range of sounds, including soft vowels like “moo”, “goo”, “aroo”, “adah” and a laugh-like noise.

At nine months old, they’ll start to enjoy babbling and will be making more complex sounds, such as “bababa” or “dadada”. They’ll also start to copy other sounds like lip-smacking or coughing. These sounds are the basis of language and, over time, will be become short words, such as “mama” and “dada”.

There are a number of different ways to encourage your baby to start and develop babbling, including:

  • Using a varied and fun tone, talk or sing to your baby about the things they or you are doing throughout the day, for example:
    • Spend time in close face to face interaction with your baby
    • Use your voice to gain your baby's attention, make your voice fun to listen to
    • Responding to their behaviour, e.g. “you want that one” when they reach for something
    • Describing your behaviour, e.g. “time to change your nappy”, or saying “up” when you pick them up
    • Drawing their attention to external noises, e.g. “that’s the dog barking, woof woof”
    • Copying the sounds and gestures your baby is making to encourage them to repeat them
    • Make new noises that they can copy, focusing on vowels (a, e, i, o, u) and early consonants (b, m, n, d, g)
  • Try to use the same word when you describe a behaviour or noise to help them learn how and when to use it
  • Singing nursery rhymes with pictures or simple actions, e.g. Old Macdonald and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, and pausing to give them time to join in
  • Playing games like peek-a-boo or blowing raspberries on their stomach
  • Making time to read children’s books and use sound effects e.g. 'beep beep' for a car or 'ahhhh!' for a teddy bear. Make sure you give them time to join in with each page or noise
  • Counting out loud while you go up and down the stairs as the rhythmic movement can encourage them to join in
  • If using a dummy for comfort, make sure it is not in reach in waking hours, as using it may limit the opportunity to play with sounds

Sounds are learnt and used through copying and repetition. You might find that your baby needs to hear the sounds and ideas many times over before they start to join in. It is difficult to know which sounds they might respond to first, so try a few ideas from those suggested to see which appeal to them.

There are a number of ways you can help your child learn and develop language, including:

  • Talking to your baby as much as possible right from the start, e.g. describing their behaviours or daily activities as you’re doing them
  • Spending as much time as possible being face-to-face with them so they can see your facial expressions and focus on what you’re saying
  • Giving them time to respond and then repeating the noise so they understand how to take it in turns in a conversation
  • Encouraging them to make longer noises by repeating them back
  • Understanding what specific noises mean and repeating the correct words back, e.g. if they say “dadadadada” you can say “daddy” back

Using a dummy

Try not to let your baby suck on a dummy all of the time as this stops them experimenting with their tongue and lip movements. Make sure they’re able to join in a conversation with noises as much as possible.

If you have been following these techniques and they don’t respond to sounds, or make any sounds by six months of age, or haven't started babbling by nine months, please contact your health visiting team.

If by nine months they babble and it’s all on one note, and isn’t tuneful, please speak to your GP about a hearing assessment.

Our team also run online workshops on early language development. They are designed for parents and carers and those working within early years settings. We have three training sessions available on different topics to equip you with everyday strategies to support your child, aged up to five. Find out more information and how to register here.