More Than Baby Talk

More Than Baby Talk

How you can promote the communication skills of infants and toddlers

The number of things babies learn in their first years is amazing, especially learning to talk. Starting at birth, babies experience the sound of voices and, by age two, most can put words together to express their needs and ideas. The U.S. Department of Education provides a guide with stage-by-stage ideas on how to encourage the development of your baby’s ability to communicate.



From birth, your baby listens to your voice. He coos and gurgles and tries to make the same sounds you make.

You can help your baby learn how pleasant voices can be when you:

  • Sing to your baby. You can do this even before he is born! Your baby will hear you.
  • Talk to your baby. She won’t understand the words, but will like your voice and your smile. She will enjoy hearing and seeing other people, too.
  • Plan for quiet time. Babies need time to babble and play quietly without TV, radio or other noises.


babytalk_3mo_6moAs your baby grows, he is learning how people talk to each other.

You help him become a “talker” when you:

  • Hold him close so he will look in your eyes.
  • Talk to him and smile.
  • Imitate the sounds when your baby babbles.
  • Say the word again if he tries to make the same sound you do.


babytalk_6mo_9moBabies will play with sounds. Some of these sound like words, such as “baba or “dada.”

Help your baby understand words (even if she can’t say them yet) when you:

  • Play games like Peek-a-Boo or Pat-a-Cake. Help her move her hands along with the rhyme.
  • Give her a toy and say something about it, like “Feel how fuzzy Teddy Bear is.”
  • Let her see herself in a mirror and ask, “Who’s that?” Then, say her name.
  • Ask your baby questions, like “Where’s doggie?” Then, show her where.


babytalk_9mo_12moYour baby will begin to understand simple words.

She stops to look at you if you say “no-no.” If someone asks “Where’s Mommy?” she will look for you. She will point, make sounds and use her body to “tell” you what she wants. For example, she may look up at you and lift her arms up to show you she “wants up.”
You can help your baby “talk” when you:

  • Show her how to wave “bye-bye.”
  • Tell her “Show me your nose.” Then point to your nose. She will soon point to her nose. Do this with toes, fingers, ears, eyes, knees and so on.
  • When she points at or gives you something, talk about the object with her. “You gave me the book. Thank you! Look at the baby rolling the ball.”
  • Introduce pretend play with your child’s favorite toy. Include it in your conversations. “Rover wants to play, too. Can he roll the ball with us?”


babytalk_12mo_15moAs they progress, babies begin to use words.

This includes using the same sounds consistently to identify an object, such as “baba” for bottle or “juju” for juice. He will give you a toy if you ask for it. Even without words, he can ask you for something–by pointing, reaching for it or looking at it and babbling.
You can help your child say the words he knows when you:

  • Talk about the things you use, like “cup,” “juice” and “doll.”
  • Ask your child questions about the pictures in books. Give your child time to name things in the picture.
  • Smile or clap your hands when your child names the things that he sees. “You see the doggie. He’s sooo big! Look at his tail wag.”


babytalk_15mo_18moYour baby will use more complex gestures to communicate with you and will continue to build her vocabulary.

She may take your hand, walk you to the bookshelf, point to a book and say “buk” to say, “I want to read a book with you.”
You can help your child talk with you when you:

  • Talk about what your child wants most to talk about. Give him time to tell you all about it.
  • Ask about things you do each day–“Which shirt will you pick today?” “Do you want milk or juice?”
  • Build on what your child says. If he says “ball,” you can say, “That is your big, red ball.”
  • Introduce pretend play with your child’s favorite toy. Include it in your conversations. “Rover wants to play, too. Can he roll the ball with us?”


babytalk_18mo_2yOver time, your child will be able to follow directions

and begin to put words together, such as “car go” or “want juice.” He will also begin to do pretend play, which fosters language development.
You can spur your child’s communication skills when you:

  • Ask your child to help you. For example, ask him to put his cup on the table or to bring you his shoe.
  • Teach your child simple songs and nursery rhymes. Read to your child, and ask him to tell you what he sees.
  • Encourage your child to talk to friends and family.
  • Engage your child in pretend play. You can talk on a play phone, feed the dolls or have a party with the toy animals.


babytalk_2y_3yBy three years old he will be able to answer more complicated questions

such as, “What do you do when you are hungry?” Your toddler’s language skills will grow by leaps and bounds. He will string more words together to create simple sentences, such as “Mommy go bye-bye.” He will be able to answer simple questions, such as “Where is your bear?” By three years old he will be able to answer more complicated questions such as, “What do you do when you are hungry?” He will do more and more pretend play, acting out imaginary scenes such as going to work, fixing the toy car, taking care of his “family” (of dolls, animals).

You can help your child put all his new words together and teach him things that are important to know when you:

  • Teach your child to say his first and last name.
  • Ask about the number, size and shape of the things your child shows you.
  • Ask open-ended questions that don’t have a “yes” or “no” answer. This helps them develop their own ideas and learn to express them. If it’s worms, you could say: “What fat, wiggly worms! How many are there? Where are they going?” Wait, watch and listen to them for the answer.
  • Ask your child to tell you the story that goes with a favorite book. “What happened to those three pigs?” Your toddler will enjoy sharing books with you, as well as peers. Take him to storytime at your local library.
  • Do lots of pretend play. Acting out stories creates rich opportunities for using, and learning, language.
  • Don’t forget what worked earlier. For example, your child still needs quiet time. This is not just for naps. Turn off the devices and let your child enjoy quiet play, singing and talking with you.


(Note: This guide was developed by Colleen E. Morisset of the University of WA and Patricia Lines of the U.S. Department of Education, with permission granted to reproduce this guide by the US Dept. of Education.)