Communication and hearing
Baby and toddler talk
Your baby will start learning about language and how to communicate as soon as they are born. Long before they can speak clearly, babies understand the general meaning of what you’re saying. Over time they will start to connect noises and words to actions or things and develop an understanding of language. They also absorb your emotional tone.
Over the first nine months your baby will start to communicate with you through babbling. From around four months they will start to gurgle and coo. At six months or so your baby will be making a number of different sounds and at nine months these sounds will start to become more complex.
You can do a lot to encourage your child’s communications skills:
- Hold your baby close and look at them as you talk to them. Babies love faces and will watch you and respond as you talk.
- Chat about what you're doing as you feed, change and bathe them.
- Sing to your baby – this helps them tune in to the rhythm of language.
- Repeat the sounds your baby makes back to them – this teaches your baby lessons about listening and taking turns in a conversation.
- Talk in a sing-song voice – this helps to keep your baby's attention.
- Name and point to things you can both see, for example, "Look, a cat". This will help your baby learn words and, in time, they'll start to copy you. As your baby gets older, add more detail, such as, "Look, a black cat".
- Start looking at books with your baby – you do not have to read the words on the page, just talk about what you can see.
- Only offer a dummy when it's time for sleep. It's hard to learn to talk with a dummy in your mouth. Aim to stop using dummies completely by 12 months.
- Play games like "peek-a-boo" and "round and round the garden". This teaches your baby important skills like taking turns, paying attention and listening.
- If your child is trying to say a word but gets it wrong, say the word properly. For example, if they point to a cat and say "Ca!" you should respond with, "Yes, it's a cat". Do not criticise or tell them off for getting the word wrong.
- Increase your child's vocabulary by giving them choices, such as, "Do you want an apple or a banana?".
- Toys and books that make a noise will help your child's listening skills.
- Enjoy singing nursery rhymes and songs together as your baby grows, especially those with actions, such as "Pat-a-cake", "Row, row, row your boat" and "Wind the bobbin up". Doing the actions helps your child to remember the words.
- Repeat words, for example, "Where are your shoes?", "Are you wearing blue shoes today?" and "Let's put your shoes on". Repetition helps your child to remember words.
- Use simple instructions – your child will understand some instructions at this age, such as "Get your coat" or '"Shut the door". Keeping instructions short and simple will help your child understand.
- Try asking "Where's your..." – ask your child to point to their ear, nose, foot, and so on.
- Limit your child's daily TV time to no more than 30 minutes for children younger than 24 months. Playing and listening to stories is more helpful when they're learning to talk.
- Help them build sentences – your child will start to put simple sentences together at around age 2. Try to reply using sentences that are a few words longer. For example, if they say, "sock off", respond with "yes, we're taking your sock off".
- Get your child's attention by saying their name at the start of a sentence. If you ask a question, give them plenty of time to answer you.
- Teach them about words that go together – for example, you could show them a ball, teddy and a rattle and then say the word ‘toy’.
- Start using sounds with meaning (symbolic sounds), like saying "whoops" or "uh-oh" when you drop something accidentally, or saying "meow" while showing them a picture of a cat.
- Switch off the television and radio – background noise makes it harder for your child to listen to you.
- Talk as you clean – children this age love to help. Chat about what you're doing as you do chores like shopping, cooking and cleaning together.
The I Can website has more information about stages of speech and language development at different ages.
Hearing is essential for developing spoken language skills. All newborn babies are offered a hearing screening assessment. Sometimes there’s an unclear result that requires a follow-up. This doesn’t automatically mean that a child has hearing problems.
Some children may have normal hearing at birth but go on to experience temporary hearing loss (perhaps due to ‘glue ear’, where congestion behind the ear drum prevents the drum moving effectively). More unusually, a small number of children may experience a progressive hearing loss, where hearing may decline over time.
The 9-12 month and 2-2½ year development reviews provide opportunities to meet with a Health Visitor when you can discuss this and other areas of your child’s development. However, if you have concerns about your child’s hearing at any time, you can contact your Health Visitor for advice. They may encourage you to make further observations in different listening situations and if appropriate, refer your child to an Audiologist for assessment.
Follow the links below to read more about your child's hearing:
When to ask for help
If you're worried about your child's speech or language development, talk to your GP or health visitor. If necessary, they will refer your child to your local speech and language therapy department
If by nine months your baby’s babble is all on one note, and isn’t tuneful, please speak to your GP about a hearing assessment.