Health Library

Speech and Language Milestones, Birth to 1 Year

Topic Overview

Speech and language development milestones relate to receptive language (the ability to understand words and sounds) and expressive language (the ability to use speech and gestures to communicate meaning).

Receptive language skills are the first communication skills learned. In the womb, babies hear and respond to familiar voices.

Soon after birth, your baby starts to learn expressive language skills. Around 6 to 9 months of age, most babies begin to make the link between sound and meaning. By 12 months, they may have mastered a few words and usually understand far more.

Speech and language milestones
  Receptive language Expressive language

Babies less than 1 month old:

  • Listen to the rhythm and melodies of speech.
  • Usually can pick out their mothers' voices.
  • Learn the rhythm and melodies of two languages when both are frequently spoken in their environment.
  • Use undifferentiated crying, which is crying that sounds the same and does not vary by specific need.

1- to 4-month-old babies:

  • As early as 1 month, may recognize the basic and distinct sounds of a language (phonemes), such as "tr" and "cl."
  • Prefer "baby talk" and voices with high pitch.
  • Become alert to sounds by blinking or widening eyes; may start to be awakened by noise, become startled, or turn toward a sound to look for its source.
  • Will quiet to their mothers' voices.
  • Make cooing sounds, often vowel sounds such as "ah-ah-ah" or "ooh-ooh-ooh."
  • At about 3 months, make cooing sounds back to someone who is talking to them.

5- to 6-month-olds:

  • Recognize their own names.
  • Make sounds like "goo" and blow bubbles at the same time.
  • At about 6 months, start to babble, repeat sounds, such as "ma-ma-ma" or "bah-bah-bah" to get attention or express feeling.
  • By 6 months of age, vary their cries to signal specific needs.

7- to 9-month-olds:

  • Hear words as distinct sounds.
  • By 9 months, usually recognize the meaning of some facial expressions and tone of voice, such as when a parent says "No!"
  • Repeat sounds that they hear.
  • Mimic the rhythm of the way others talk to them.
  • May say words like "mama" and "dada."
  • By 9 months may wave "bye-bye" when prompted.

10- to 12-month-olds:

  • Begin to follow simple commands like "give me the toy."
  • Usually understand "mama" and "dada" and can identify each parent.
  • Correctly refer to each parent as "mama" or "dada."
  • Use the index finger to point to things they want and need.
  • At about 12 months, say a few single words other than "mama" or "dada."

Related Information

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
John Pope, MD - Pediatrics
Louis Pellegrino, MD - Developmental Pediatrics
Last Revised September 6, 2013

Last Revised: September 6, 2013

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

© 1995-2014 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.

Decision Points

Our interactive Decision Points guide you through making key health decisions by combining medical information with your personal information.

You'll find Decision Points to help you answer questions about:

Interactive Tools

Get started learning more about your health!

Our Interactive Tools can help you make smart decisions for a healthier life. You'll find personal calculators and tools for health and fitness, lifestyle checkups, and pregnancy.

Symptom Checker

Feeling under the weather?

Use our interactive symptom checker to evaluate your symptoms and determine appropriate action or treatment.

Symptom Checker