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Language and Speech Skills for Children Ages Birth to 1 year

Speech and language skills develop quickly in the first 3 years of life. These skills progress at slightly different rates for every child. However, language usually follows natural stages or milestones based on a child’s age. 

caregiver playing with young boy

Help your young child develop speech and language skills - smile, sing, read, play, and talk about what is happening around them.

Language milestones

A child develops rapidly during their first year of life. Here are some milestones you should see for your child.

Birth to 2 months

From birth to 2 months old, your child should be able to:

  • Cry to show emotions and needs 
  • Make different cries for different reasons
  • Make eye contact during feeding
  • Watch the speaker’s mouth or eyes
  • Show peace and happiness by smiling and cooing
  • Calm down or smile if they hear a voice they know
  • Move or react to loud sounds or voices

Ages 2-4 months old 

From 2-4  months old, your child should be able to: 

  • Respond to new sounds other than voices (such as a phone) 
  • Turn their head toward a voice 
  • Respond to changes in tone of voice (such as “no”) 
  • When they hear music, pay attention and make sounds with their voice  
  • Smile at you or when playing alone 
  • Babble, gurgle, laugh, make different vowel sounds 
  • Whine to get what they want 
  • Try to interact with others by making sounds (“talking”)  
  • Start to recognize when you say their name (turning their head or looking up) 
  • Wait for feeding (gets excited when you shake bottle or prepare to feed) 

Ages 4-6 months old 

From 4-6 months old, your child should be able to: 

  • Respond to sounds they hear by making sounds 
  • Put vowels together when they babble ( “ah, “eh,” “oh”) 
  • Start to take turns with parents when they make sounds 
  • Respond when you say their name 
  • Make sounds to show when they are happy or upset 
  • Start to say consonant sounds (babbling while making the “m” or “b” sound. 

Ages 6 -12 months (1 year) 

From 6-12 months old, your child should be able to: 

  • Respond when you say “no” 
  • Listen when you speak to them  
  • Begin to understand common words ("cup," "juice," and "bottle") and the names of family members 
  • Do things you ask, such as "come here" and gestures to “come up” or “want up?” 
  • Copy speech sounds and make changes in tone 
  • Use speech or sounds to get and keep attention instead of crying  
  • Make short and long groups of babbling sounds, such as "mama mama" 
  • Pay attention to new words and start using them 
  • Enjoy games like peek-a-boo and pat-a-cake 
  • Able to identify 2 parts of their body  
  • Search for hidden objects 
  • Start using toys correctly (pushes a toy car) 
  • Use gestures, like responding to “bye-bye” by waving or holding up the arms to be picked up 
  • Be afraid of strangers 
  • Say “mama” or “dada” and mean it 
  • Say 1 or 2 words by their first birthday ("bye-bye," "hi,” "dada") 

How to help your child learn language and speech 

Even at this early age, there are many ways you can help your baby develop language and speech skills. 

  • Support your baby's attempts to talk by speaking to them. Make eye contact and imitate sounds they make. Copy your child’s laughter and the look on their face. 
  • Encourage your baby to make vowel and consonant-vowel sounds such as "ma," "da," and "ba." 
  • Teach your baby to imitate actions and take turns. Clap, blow kisses, wave, and play finger games (pat-a-cake, itsy bitsy spider).  
  • Read to your child. Describe the pictures in a book. Use large, simple, colorful pictures.  
  • Talk while you are doing things, such as dressing, bathing, and feeding. "Mommy is washing Sam's hair."   
  • Talk about where you are going, what you will do, and who and what you will see. "Sam is going to grandma's house. Grandma has a dog. Sam will pet the dog." 
  • Introduce animal sounds: “A cow says moo.” “A dog says woof.” 
  • Interact with your child when they are awake and alert. Smile, sing, read, or talk about what is happening around them. 
  • Let your child experience different sounds and sights. Expose them to the sound of others talking. 

Signs of language or speech problems in your child 

In some cases, children with illnesses may reach language milestones later than usual. This may be due to changes in their environment, routine, or social interactions. Or, the illness or treatment might harm hearing, learning, or processing skills.   

Your child may have a speech or language problem if they have: 

  • Difficulty understanding language 
  • Delay in developmental milestones 
  • Trouble forming some sounds 
  • Issues sucking, chewing, swallowing 
  • Problems making their lips, tongue, or jaw move properly 
  • Tendency not to make sounds 

Signs of Hearing Loss in Children

Hearing loss can slow or prevent the development of language and speech. Look for signs that your child’s hearing is developing normally. If your child can hear, they will:

  • Kow the sound of your voice and get quiet when you talk to them 
  • Respond when you say their name
  • Wake up from sleeping when there is a loud noise  
  • Make noises to get your attention
  • Turn their head toward someone speaking or toward sounds that interest them
  • Enjoy tound of music or toys that make noise
  • Respond when they hear voices on a phone

Pay attention to ear problems and infections, especially when they happen often. Contact your doctor if you have questions. Your doctor may refer you to an audiologist to have your child's hearing tested. An audiologist is a health care provider who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of hearing problems. If your audiologist says your child needs a hearing aid, your child must use it to help their language and speech skills.

Find more information on Audiology and Hearing Care

Therapy for language and speech problems

If your child has problems with speech or language, your care provider may recommend speech therapy.   

A speech therapist or speech-language pathologist is a care provider who can help your child with speech and language problems. A speech therapist or pathologist models correct sounds and syllables for your child. They also give ideas and homework for you and your child to do at home. This provider may also recommend additional tests or testing to better develop a plan for your child.  

Learn more about Speech-Language Therapy.

Key Points

  • The first 3 years of your child's life are important for learning speech and language. 
  • Most children develop speech and language skills in stages (milestones).  
  • Expose your child to sounds and speech by speaking or reading to them. 
  • Imitate sounds and make actions with them, like waving. 
  • Play games with them and copy their expressions. 
  • Watch for any signs of speech delays, hearing loss, and other problems. 

 For more information 

See for more information on related topics: 

If you have questions about your child’s language development, talk to your health care provider.

Reviewed: September 2022