Language milestones are successes that mark various stages of language development. They are both receptive (hearing and understanding) and expressive (speech).

Every parent wants to hear his or her baby's first word. From cooing and babbling, to making short sounds, and eventually words and phrases, babies learn to communicate with language. Your baby's first smile may thrill you, as will his first step. But when you hear him speak, you will know he is developing a capability only humans possess. Your baby will eventually use words to let you know how he feel and what he wants.

Language milestones are successes that mark various stages of language development. They are both receptive (hearing and understanding) and expressive (speech). This means that in addition to being able to make sounds and words, your baby also needs to be able to hear and understand.

Not every baby says the same thing at the same time. Language milestones are an approximation, when most babies do certain things.

Long before your baby will ever speak, he will be trying to let you know his feelings. He will first smile at you at around 2 months of age. By 4 months, he will probably laugh. By six months of age, your baby should be able to turn and look at you when you are speaking to him. He may respond to his name, and be able to tell the difference between happy and angry tones of voice. Your baby will be able to express happiness by giggling or cooing, and unhappiness by crying, and he will continue to learn.

Of course, during this time, a lot of your baby's energy will be invested in learning how to move. Sitting up, rolling over, crawling, pulling up to stand, even taking a first step may occur by the end of the first year.

Significant Language Milestones

  • Cooing – This is the baby's first sound production besides crying, usually occurring between six to eight weeks of age.
  • Laughing – Usually at around 16 weeks, your baby will laugh in response to things in their world. My son laughed for the first time when our Labrador Retriever licked him on the hand.
  • Babbling and baby jargon – This is the use of repeated syllables over and over like “bababa,” but without specific meaning. It usually occurs between 6 and 9 months. Babbling turns into baby jargon, or “nonsense speech.”
  • The word no – Between 6 and 11 months of age, your baby should learn to understand the word no and will stop what he is doing (though he may immediately do it again!).
  • First word – By the time babies are a year old, they will probably have said their first word, and maybe one or two more. A baby's first word usually comes anywhere between 10 and 15 months.
  • Following instructions – By the time your little one is a year old, he should be able to follow your instructions, if they are simple and clear. Babies will be interested in trying to speak.
  • Words will not be perfect. Consonants made with the lips, like “m” or “b” or “p” are easier to produce. Your baby might say “ma-ma,” which is easier for a baby to say than “da-da.” Dada is harder because the “d” is made by the tongue and the roof of the mouth.

Your baby might say a word for food, like “ba” for bottle. My first word, I have been told, was “ap” for apple, by which I meant food in general. I said “ap” when I wanted to eat. One of my son's first words was “up,” which meant he wanted us to pick him up or take him out of the crib or playpen or seat. He also said “dada” before “mama.”

Your baby may not completely understand what they are saying until they see how you react. If your little one says “ma-ma” and you come running, he will figure it out.

Causes for concern

  • Loud sounds – You should be concerned if your baby does not react to loud sounds by 5 months at the latest. If you have any concern about this earlier, you should tell the baby's doctor.
  • Making sounds – Babies should be making both happy and unhappy sounds by the time they are 5 months old.
  • Looking for source of sounds – By 6 months, your babies should be turning their head or eyes toward the source of sound.
  • Communication – Between 6 and 11 months old, your baby should be imitating sounds, babbling, and using gestures.
  • Name recognition – By 10 months, your baby should react in some way to hearing his name.

During this year you will have lots of visits with the pediatrician. The doctor will be assessing your baby's language development. At each checkup with the doctor, be sure and ask if you have any concerns about your baby's language development. As long as your baby is proceeding along and developing more skills, the first words will come. It is not a race.