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Your pregnancy and baby guide

Help your baby learn to talk

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0 to 6 months

  • 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.

6 to 12 months

  • 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.

12 to 18 months

  • 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.

18 to 24 months

  • 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.

2 to 3 years

  • 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.

Think your child may have a speech or language problem?

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 you prefer, you can refer your child to a speech and language therapist yourself.

The I Can website has answers to common questions about speech and language assessments and also information about the assessment services it offers.

How to help your bilingual child

Lots of children grow up in a family where more than one language is spoken. This can be an advantage to children in their learning. Knowing another language will help the development of their English.

The important thing is to talk to your child in whatever language feels comfortable to you. This may mean that one parent uses one language, while the other uses a different language. Children adapt to this very well.

Page last reviewed: 04/10/2019
Next review due: 04/10/2022