Babies and Early Language Skills:  Babbling and First Words

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Babies, Babbling and First Words

By, Lauren Turk, MS, CCC-SLP


Babies start producing sounds early in infancy and they are constantly learning about sounds of language even though they haven't spoken their first word yet! Babbling is what people think of when they think of babies learning to talk, but even before that, there is so much happening in those gurgles and grunts. 

At around 6 to 8 weeks, babies begin to coo.  A cooing sound is just one sound that is prolonged and is often brought about by social interaction, like when your baby sees you in the morning or during diaper changing.  Typically, at 16 weeks is when you may begin to hear that long anticipated  laugh.  After cooing, babies become more playful with their sounds as they enter the stage of vocal play.  During vocal play, babies begin to play around with vowel and consonant like sounds. This is referred to as marginal babbling.  At around 6 months, you will start to hear a variety of consonant sounds like p, b, m, and n

At 6 to 9 months of age, babies finally begin to babble and what we hear is referred to as canonical babbling (e.g., mamamama, bababababa).  Children with hearing impairment will produce sounds of marginal babbling, but when they reach the point where they should enter the stage of canonical babbling there will be no progress in their speech acquisition.  So, at this point, if a child is not hearing, it will become noticeable.  If there are any concerns of this nature you can make an appointment with your pediatrician to get your child’s hearing checked. 

After canonical babbling, babies enter the nonreduplicated babbling stage or it is referred to as variegated babbling.  This is when babies babbling sounds become more complex and similar to actual words and and their long strings of sounds are similar to conversations.  The sounds are also accompanied by the intonation changes of their voices and they sound like they are talking to us. 

As they approach 1 year, if they haven’t already, babies are well on their way to producing their first words.  Not every baby will begin speaking by their first birthday but parents and caregivers should play close attention for this important speech and language milestone.  If you have not heard the baby’s first word, it should definitely be mentioned to your doctor when you go to the pediatrician for a 1 year check up. 

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15 January 2014 16:59
by Lauren Turk, MS, CCC-SLP