Language Development: When Children Say Their First Words

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Language Development: When Children Say Their First Words Speech Development—The question I get most from parents of babies is: Should my child be talking yet? So let’s talk a bit about when that should be happening. Most developmental charts say that the first word happens around the first birthday. And on average that’s true. The word may be an approximation that only mom and dad understand, but as long as it’s produced on purpose and to consistently mean the same thing, then it’s a “word.” Pronunciation comes later. But there’s actually a wide spread for when that first word can happen, and that’s when parents start to fret.

Some kids, more likely girls but not always, start a month or two early and you may be startled when your neighbor’s daughter says “dada” “dog” and “water” at ten-and-a-half-months. Especially if your thirteen-month-old son hasn’t said anything yet.

Is the neighbor’s daughter advanced? Is your son delayed? The answer to both of those questions is “no.” Both children are absolutely normal.

We are so eager to see those milestones happen that every week feels like a year, and seeing a child who’s mastered the skill on the early side of the window makes us very anxious about our own children if they’re developing on the later side of the window.

A couple weeks of that and parents are ready to march into the pediatrician’s office and insist on a referral.

The truth is that children can start saying their first words as late as 14 or 15 months and a pediatrician or speech therapist wouldn’t start to think anything unusual is going on until then.

Here are a few things that should be going on that you can look for to put your anxiety to rest if your one-year-old isn’t establishing a vocabulary yet.

  • Your baby should be able to find things visually when you name them (daddy, the dog, a favorite toy)
  • Your baby should engage with you when you are sitting in front of him to play
  • He or she should have a handful of sounds when babbling, and should be putting multiple syllables together that have pattern and rhythm

If you see those things, don’t worry about there not being true words yet. Your baby has all the pre-language skills that precede words and you are forbidden to worry for another few months.

About words, at any rate. I know I can’t keep you from worrying about EVERYTHING.

To read more about language development, be sure to stop by the following post:

When did your baby say his/her first word? What was the word?

Photo credit: simmbarb at

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Lori is a speech-language pathologist and hosts the website Your Child Talking where she shares advice on speech and language for parents of both typically and atypically developing kids.


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