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Some of the cutest sounds in the world are those of a babbling baby. It usually starts with coos and one syllable sounds and eventually your baby calls your name and your heart bursts. At some point in early toddlerhood, babies also start to string together multiple words and sounds into sentences. You have no idea what they are saying but they say these sentences with such conviction, it’s hard to believe it’s just babbling nonsense. New research shows, that in fact, it isn’t just rambling. Your baby is really communicating and saying the words they’ve heard from you in the form of a structured sentence. Unfortunately for us, we just can’t quite make out what those words are exactly. But rest assured, your baby knows and is about to embark on a major language milestone.

Here’s a little rundown on the science of baby babbling and what it means for your little one.

The Truth About Baby Talk

Many parents and caregivers are confused about whether or not baby talk is harmful or helpful to babies. There are a lot of varying opinions on this hot topic as well. It’s important to remember that babies can understand a lot more than you think. Babies may not be able to recite all of your words back to you but they always understand a lot more than they can say.

When adults talk to babies using shortened words or call objects by alternate names, it can be confusing to a baby that is eager to learn your language. While you do want to speak plainly, direct and using fewer words than you might normally as an adult, research shows that there is no reason to talk to a baby using made up names and nonsensical sounds. The more you speak to a baby using correct terminology, the more your baby will learn their language.

For example, if you baby points to their empty milk glass and says a string of words that you can’t make out, don’t repeat the babble back to them. Ask them plainly, if they would like more milk. Reciting the babbles back, is especially confusing because in their mind, they may have asked you for more milk using the correct words and it just came out as babble. Chances are when you ask them directly, you’ll get a nod or a yes if that’s indeed what they wanted. Research from the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences suggests that babies actually practice the sounds in their minds before they can say them.

When it comes to baby talk, all communication is better than none, so talk to them as much as possible and you’ll be amazed at how much they can quickly say back to you as they grow.

Talking Timeline

It’s important to note that much of this research applies to a baby that is hitting developmental milestones at an average rate. Babies are all different and while some babies have medical reasons that may cause them to never speak as we traditionally know it, all babies need human communication and interaction. There are ways for nonverbal babies and children to communicate that have proven effective in helping parents and caregivers understand the needs of their children without words. If for any reason you feel that your baby isn’t speaking enough or communicating the way you would think for a baby their age, talk to your healthcare provider.

According to the Mayo Clinic, by the end of three months your child might be smiling when they see you, making different crying sounds to address different needs, and coo often. They may also recognize your voice when they hear you. Around six months, you may hear gurgling noises, sounds, and different voice tones to express their moods. Babies around this age will also recognize tones in your voice, the directions of sounds and music or sounds made by toys.

By their first birthday, babies can usually say a handful of words. They can also understand simple instructions and recognize commonly used words.

By 18-months your baby can recognize the names of family members and familiar people, parts of the body and objects. They can follow simple directions and say around ten words.

By their second birthday, your child can say around 50 words or more, ask simple questions and say commonly used phrases. By this point, you and other caregivers will be able to understand about half of what your child says.

Ways To Encourage Speech With Your Baby

To help your baby with their language development, the most important thing you can do is speak to them. Talk as much as possible in front of them with other siblings, your spouse, and family members. The more they hear, the more their little sponge brains will absorb.

To easily add in talking, when you hand a child a toy, a cup or food, tell them what it is as you give it to them. Ask your baby questions about what they want and give them choices and the chance to answer back. As they age you can test their skills by giving them one step commands and then eventually leading up to two-step commands. An example of a two-step command would be you telling them to pick up a toy and then put it in the basket. To further communication, make a game out of naming common objects, animals, animals noises or pointing to pictures of their favorite people. They will soon be able to tell you the names and make the sounds the animals make.

In the end, the more you and your baby’s caregivers can talk to your baby and interact the better. Remember that every baby learns differently and at their own pace but the more they hear, the more they will eventually learn to say.