At What Age Do Babies Start Talking? When To Be Concerned

As with all other developmental milestones, the age at which babies start talking will vary from one child to the next.

However, language development, including vocabulary size, is one of the best indicators of future success (including academics).

Therefore it is important for parents and caregivers to be aware of the language development milestones.

For those of you that really want an answer to the question of this article, the average age babies start talking is 12 months.

But don’t worry if your 12 month old doesn’t have any words yet.

Remember, this is the average age.

There are many skills that your little one needs to acquire before they will speak their first word.

Babies start communicating in many different ways before spoken words are ever heard.

Below are some of the communication skills a baby must have acquired in order to start speaking.

If your 12 month old has these skills, words should follow soon.

Also keep in mind that words for a baby do not (and usually are not) need to be pronounced properly.

A rule of thumb to know whether or not to count something as a word is if the sound combination is only used to identify one thing.

For example, if your baby always says “baba” when they want a bottle and doesn’t typically say “baba” to anything else, then that would count as a word.

Animal sounds also count as words as long as each animal being identified has a different sound.

So a baby that says “moo” when they see any animal does not technically have a word, unless you consider “moo” to be the word meaning “animal”.

But the baby who says “moo” for cow, “woof” for dog and “meow” for cat would have 3 words.

Continue reading for tips to develop these skills if your child is struggling.

How Do Babies Communicate Before They Can Talk?

Eye Contact

Starting soon after birth, babies typically start making eye contact with those most familiar to them (parents and close caregivers).

You will often see a baby looking intently at their parent as they speak or sing.

This is a very important skill, not just from a social perspective, but also for language development.

As your baby grows and can make eye contact more often, they are looking at your mouth and eyes and obtaining cues about emotions and the different sounds used to make up words.

Joint Attention

This is important from both a social and language development perspective.

A child must have a reason to communicate and this starts with joint attention.

This skill becomes solidified after about 9 months of age when babies are regularly seen pointing to an object, event, person, etc., then looking back at their caregiver and then once again looking and pointing at the object.

This simple activity shows that baby understands communicative intentions.


Babies typically begin to use gestures as a form of communication around 8 months.

A few good examples are clapping (to indicate being happy or excited), waving, pointing, arms up (indicating wanting to be picked up), blowing (perhaps indicating wanting mom/dad to blow some bubbles), reaching out and opening/closing hand to request something, blowing kisses, etc.

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Copying and Imitation

This is typically seen in babies that are 8 months and older.

Babies will begin imitating actions such as clapping, waving, blowing kisses, etc.

Babies will also imitate simple vocalizations such as “bababa” and “dadada” or coughing, raspberries (putting lips together and blowing, making a sound like “brrr”), smacking lips, etc.

Just like some of the other communicative attempts discussed above, these kinds of imitation start out social in nature.

It is a way for a baby to interact with their parent/caregiver.  However, it is also a precursor to spoken language.

Babies learn from a young age that conversation is give and take.

By copying an adult’s vocalizations, the baby is also learning complex mouth movements that will later help him form words and sentences.

Turn Taking

Turn taking is one of the earliest communicative skills to develop.

Parents begin to interpret their baby’s noises, cries, smiles, movements, etc.

As baby grows parents may begin leaving pauses to see if their baby will respond with a sound, action or smile.

Eventually this give and take results in true turn taking which is necessary to carry on a conversation!


Your baby’s first year will be filled with information gathering.

Before a child can speak, they must understand the words they are hearing.

This is why it is very important that you narrate as you go about your day.

Talk to your baby about what you are doing.

They may not understand everything right now, but they soon will.

Babies and toddlers need to hear words hundreds of times before they will start using them themselves.

This is probably why “no” is often a first word for many children!

It’s ok to talk to your baby the way you would talk to another person.

You do not need to use immature grammar.

Using inflection and intonation in your voice is great because it really draws attention to the sounds in the words you are using.

Try using real words as much as possible and avoid made up babyish terms such as “tata” (give me).

That being said, vocal play with a baby is perfectly fine.

What this means is that you can look at your little one and say “babababa” or something like that.

But this would be done playfully, and hopefully once your baby is closer to 6 months they may start imitating some of these sounds.

Your baby should understand the word “no” by about 12 months old.

Prior to this you will see understanding when you call their name and they turn their head towards you.

After 12 months, a baby can understand simple instructions/questions such as “where is the ball?” or “show me your shoe”.


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If you are concerned that your 12 month old does not have any words, here are some red flags to be on the lookout for.

Red Flags

  • flat affect or no smiling when interacting with parents or caregivers
  • not responding to name when called by 10-12 months
  • no back and forth imitation of sounds or actions by 9 months
  • not understanding a simple instruction such as “show me your foot” by 12 months
  • difficulty making eye contact by 6 months
  • no babbling by 12 months
  • unable to point (or use other gestures) by 12 months

If you feel that your 12 month old has 2 or more of these red flags, please contact a registered speech-language pathologist in your area.

Curious as to what some common first words are?  Download this list and keep it on your fridge!

Suggestions & Activities To Help Strengthen Baby’s Non-verbal Communication Skills

Talk Often

Talk to your baby, label objects you see, describe what you are doing.

Make silly sounds, pause and wait.

Give your baby the chance to respond by either vocalizing, gesturing or changing their facial expression.

Point and Gesture

Point to different items around your house.

Go up close and look at the item, label it, and then look to your baby for confirmation.  Do this frequently.

Your baby should soon start trying to draw your attention to something they are interested in.

Use gestures in addition to pointing.

For example, if you know your baby wants to be picked up say something like “ok, I will pick you up” while lifting your arms up as you are walking to your baby.

To add to the natural gesture repertoire, why not give sign language a try.

It will help your baby communicate and often can get your little one speaking actual words.

Keep Your Language Simple

But, this does not mean use made up words or incorrect grammar (telegraphic speech).

Try and avoid phrases like “tata to mommy”.  Instead say “give it to me”.

Those are all still simple words and there are only 4 words in that phrase.

However, you are modeling correct grammar.

Make Eye Contact

If your little one has a special toy, hold it up to your face to encourage them to look at you.

Play games like “peek-a-boo” and say “I see you” every time you or baby pull the blanket away.

Point to your baby while saying “I see you”.


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Talking to your baby in a sing song voice is often referred to “motherese” or “baby talk”.

Changing the tone/inflection of your voice and varying your pitch helps maintain a baby’s attention.

Read Together

Reading is a wonderful way to bond with your baby.

But it is also a great way to build language skills.

Find simple books with few words.  And you can always make up your own story.

Point to and label pictures.

Look from the book to your baby while you are talking.

Vary your pitch and intonation to keep your little one’s attention.

If your baby allows it, take their index finger from time to time to show them how to point to pictures (for babies over 10 months).

Action Songs and Poems

Sing songs/poems like “The Wheels On The Bus”, “Itsy Bitsy Spider”, “If You’re Happy And You Know It”, etc.

There are many others, or you can make up your own songs with actions.

Do the actions while your baby watches.

After hearing/seeing a song many times your baby will start repeating simple actions such as clapping.

Turn Taking Games

Once your baby is sitting independently roll a ball to them and encourage them to roll it back to you.

Make sure that you make eye contact with your little one and talk about what you’re doing.

For example “here comes the ball”, “you caught the ball, yay!”, “now roll the ball back to me”, “my turn”, “your turn”, “you have the ball”, etc.

You could do a similar activity with wooden baby blocks as well.

Take turns stacking a block to build a tower.

There are many simple turn taking games you can play with babies.

Follow Your Child’s Lead

If your baby is interested in a particular toy, game or book, talk about it a lot.

Point and make eye contact.

Since your child is already interested they will be more likely to learn new skills.

Babies Start Talking When They Are Ready, But…

Remember, the average age that babies start talking, by talking I mean say their first word or 2, is around 12 months.

If your baby (12 month old) is babbling, making eye contact, responding to their name, showing joint attention, using gestures and pointing but does not have any words, keep doing what you are doing.

The words should start flowing in no time.

However, if by 16 months your little one still does not have any words, then it is time to have an assessment done by a registered speech-language pathologist.

To rule out any possible hearing issues, you can also take your child to an audiologist.

But call first and make sure the audiologist works with babies and children as the testing is different than with an adult.

Please share any comments or questions below!


  1. Bebe

    My nephew is 18 month and he only can say baba, mami.. he is very hyperactive not responding when calling his name, he will only respond if we make weird noise with some toy, doesn’t make eye contact only for example when he want to take my glasses off me, or when he want us to pick him up he will look at me and raise his hands. We are worried because other kids his age they can point at the animals and imitate them as well..

    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Thanks for sharing some information about your nephew. Please encourage his parents to have him assessed by a speech-language pathologist as soon as possible. This can either be done through a private therapist (many insurance providers cover speech-language therapy) or a public provider. It will be quicker to see someone privately but his parents can always add him to a public waitlist as well.

      Since you mentioned he doesn’t respond well or consistently make eye contact it is also important to have his hearing checked. I would suggest looking up audiologists who work with young children.

      I highly recommend the book “It Takes Two To Talk.” It is written for parents of children at various levels of communication and gives strategies for how to slowly help a child’s language development.

      You can also let his parents know that sign language is a great way to build the gap between no speech and speaking with ease. Here are 2 articles I wrote about signing with a toddler or baby.
      Baby Sign Language Basics – What You Need To Know!
      Teach Your Baby Sign Language: It’s Easier Than You Think!

      I hope that this helps.

      Feel free to reach out anytime by leaving a comment or through the “contact” page.

  2. Stratos K

    Parents some times worry too much about these things. I have seen this time and time again when a parent says that his baby talked or walked at this point of time and the other parent starts feeling worried that his bay hasn’t done the same yet. Unfortunately we live in an age where we are very much influenced by our surroundings and relatives and it’s very difficult to understand that each baby is completely different. Being late doesn’t mean anything. Yes there may be a few indications but we should never live in fear about these things as we will always see imperfections in our children this way.

    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Hi Stratos,

      Thanks for your comment.  I do agree that children develop at their own pace, however when it comes to verbal communication there are milestones that need to be met and not meeting these can predict difficulties for the child in the future.  Here is an article I wrote that discusses what can happen when a child with delayed speech is left to develop at his own pace: What Is A Late Talker – The Truth Revealed!

  3. water life


    That’s a very resourceful and informative article.

    What I was to ask is about the clarity of talking. My daughter is 27 months and she says many many words and she makes sentences (she even knows the geometric shapes), but she doesn’t talk clearly. I mean we understand what she says, but others not always. What age will she talk clearly and what does it depend on?

    Thanks for your time and your information.


    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Hi  Thodoris,

      Being able to properly pronounce sounds takes time.  I wouldn’t expect a 27 month old to be speaking clearly.  However by the age of 3 a child should be understood about 75% of the time.

      Make sure you are always modeling the correct pronunciation of word when you are speaking to her.  So if she says something like “widdo wabbit” for “little rabit” make sure you are saying “little rabbit” and not using her pronunciation because it sounds cute.

      Let me know if you have any other questions.

  4. Paul

    Dear Tanya,

    By GODS grace, My wife gave birth to our boy baby on 2nd of March 2019. So often I do some search online for helpful information on parenting and to know details about baby’s growth. Today, I came across your helpful and informative post.

    The examples you shared (baba, moo) is very helpful. I thought they need to speak the exact words now I realized it’s not needed. Now I can relate to a few words our neighbor’s baby talks, she uses “LaLa” means water, so it’s a word.

    Indeed, while I am talking and singing our son keep on looking at my eyes and when I stop he will start crying lol.

    The information I learned from your post is an eye-opener. Going forward, I will talk more to our baby and I will talk about good things, share great thoughts, and also going to read the Bible to him.

    Much Success!


    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Thanks for your comment Paul.  I am glad that the information will help you with your baby!

  5. Sherron Shields

    You’re main advise agenda is that “if babies aren’t ‘on track ‘by a certain (average) age”,then they should be seen, assessed and compartmentalize . I’m sorry if I seem simple and uninformed, but babies talk when they have something to say. They talk when They’re ready. People need to be more involved with each other, especially their toddlers and not so glued to and reliant on online advise, social media, games. Pay attention, have some common sense and stop relying on others, ‘they and them’ To tell you what your most basic instincts should be telling you. If one doesn’t have those maybe they should wait on having children until they aren’t one anymore. I have 3 grown children and my newest grandson who is almost. 16 months isn’t talking yet. We’ll not a language we recognize. But he’s smart, watchful, very willful and curious about everything. He just doesn’t want to use words in our language yet. Peace and Light

    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Thanks for your comment Sherron. I would like to direct you to the this article. I think you will find it quite insightful. The intent of my articles around speech and language development are not to scare parents. But speech and language development does make up the foundation or building blocks for skills that children will learn later on. There is so much more to speech and language development than simply speaking words. I spent 8 years at University studying child development and 3 years specifically around child language development and brain development. As I said, the information I am sharing isn’t to spread fear and worry but parents do need to be aware of future issues that may arise if a child is “late to talk” and does not receive therapy (assuming it is warranted).

  6. Sasha

    Thanks for sharing this. My daughter is now 19 months and says a few words but mainly still babbles a lot. However, I am Russian and my husband is English and we’re trying to raise her to be bilingual. I’m curious on how her being exposed to 2 languages can affect her speech development. Some websites claim there might be a slight delay. Some say there should be no delay. At the moment she speaks a few English words with just 1-2 Russian words. However, her understanding of Russian and English is basically the same. Time will tell, but it’s always exciting to hear her copy sounds or words she hears from people around her.

    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Hi Sasha,

      It is true that children learning more than one language may be a bit behind with their expressive language. But this should only be within a few months of when a child speaking one language learns to talk. If you are in an English speaking part of the world there is a good chance that your daughter’s stronger language will be English. Just keep an eye on things and if by 24 months she still only has a handful of words in both languages it would probably be best to have her assessed by a speech-language pathologist.

  7. padmavathi

    Thank you for the useful information.
    When your baby is growing, he will try to flaunt his language skills by speaking gibberish. This gibberish talk will eventually turn to real words. It will then slowly turn into full sentences. This babble is actually your little one developing his speech skills. An incredible fact is that your baby starts to learn language and words even when he is inside your womb.

    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Thanks for your comment Padmavathi! You are correct, there are many stages of “talking” babies go through before they are actually able to speak. Just like a baby can’t just get up and walk they also aren’t born talking. But each day they learn more and more that will eventually bring them to the goal of walking and talking!

  8. Judy

    Hi my 19 month old nephew hasn’t said his first word yet he only screams. He is hyperactive, follows some of the instructions and responds well. Pediatrician have asked them to wait or else he will be labelled. What would you suggest?

    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Hi Judy,

      My suggestion is that your nephew needs to be seen for a speech-language evaluation as soon as possible. Children whose language skills develop on track or ahead of schedule tend to do better in school than those children who were late to talk. Please take a look at this article for some stats on this subject Perhaps it would help to refer your nephew’s parents to these articles. Unfortunately most general practice pediatricians do not have the in depth knowledge about language development that a speech-language pathologist has.

      1. Judy

        Thank you so much Tanya.This will really help.

        1. Tanya (Post author)

          You’re welcome Judy!

  9. jzee

    My baby is 25 month old and he can only say daddy and mama..the problem is he is so hyper, we cant even control him..he can recognize his name and sometimes he is talking alone, babbling..pointing things (ah ah)..but he follow things, like give me that, get that, worried that my toddler cant talk anymore..what is the average are a baby toddler can talk..

    1. Tanya (Post author)


      By the age of 2 children should have a vocabulary of about 50 words. 2-3 word combinations are also becoming more common (for example, “Dada shoe”) by 24 months. I strongly recommend taking your son for a speech-language assessment as the earlier a child receives treatment (assuming it is warranted), the better the outcome. Please let me know if you have any other questions.

  10. Andrew

    This is really helpful. You’ve given some pretty good suggestions on what to do to help with their non-verbal language skills. People are saying baby talk should be avoided and you also pointed that out. But isn’t it easier for them to understand instead of whole sentences? But I do agree with the intonation advice. It does help and proper tones should be used when communicating with babies. Thanks.

    1. Tanya (Post author)

      Thanks for the comment Andrew. Take a look at the article What Is Motherese? To Baby Talk or Not? as I give more explanations there about the whole “baby talk” thing. Babies are capable of learning multiple languages simultaneously so there is no reason why they won’t be able to understand proper grammar usage of one language. Like I mentioned, you can keep your sentences short but try to use correct grammar whenever possible.


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