Healthy living

Learning to talk

Learning to talk is one of the most important steps for your child. Talking helps them make sense of the world, ask for what they need and get along with other people.

Just like other skills, your child will develop language and speech at their own speed.

Steps in learning to talk

The early months

Crying is your baby's first communication.

By responding to their needs when they cry, you’re showing them that you’ve heard them, and that they matter. Your baby will also be listening to you and watching how you talk.

At around 7 to 8 weeks, your baby will start to make little noises which come before speech. If you listen and respond to these they will coo and make simple sounds.

This is the start of your baby learning to talk.

8 to 12 months
  • The early little noises turn into babbling – ‘da-da-da-da’ and ‘ma-ma-ma-ma’.
  • Your baby is beginning to learn what some simple words mean even though they can’t say them – ‘mummy’, ‘daddy’, ‘no’.
  • They might wave ‘bye-bye’ when asked.
  • They’ll start to respond to simple requests like ‘Give me the ball’.
  • they’ll also know their own name and react when you say it.
12 to 18 months
  • They’ll do a lot of babbling, and start saying single words – ‘no’, ‘dad’, ‘dog’.
  • They can point to things that they know when you ask them to.
18 months to 2 years
  • 18 month olds can know and use between 6 and 20 words.
  • Two year olds may say 50 words and understand many more.
  • Many of the words may be unclear but you can tell what they mean.
  • Your 2 year old can say their name.
  • They can ask for simple things – ‘drink’.
  • They’ll start to join words together – ‘daddy home’, ‘all gone’.
  • They’ll copy the last part of sentences.
  • They’ll try out different speech sounds and make mistakes.
3 to 4 years
  • Your child will begin to ask ‘what’ and ‘why’ questions.
  • They’ll use sentences with lots of different words.
  • They can begin to separate the truth from make-believe.
  • They can talk about yesterday, now and tomorrow, and know what they mean.
  • You can understand their speech most of the time.
  • They might talk to themselves while doing things.
  • They can also learn and join in simple rhymes and songs.
4 to 5 years

By now, your child will be able to adjust their language to suit the situation. For example, they’ll talk differently to you than to their friends.

  • They’ll start to ask ‘when’ questions.
  • They can talk about imaginary situations – ‘I hope…’.
  • They’ll still mix truth and make-believe, and like to tell stories.
  • They can hold conversations with his friends and parents.
  • If you teach him, they‘ll be able to say their name, age and address.
  • Four year olds enjoy making up words for fun and using toilet words – ‘poo’, ‘bum’.
  • Their speech will be clear but they still might not be saying ‘th’, ‘r’, ‘z’, ‘s’ and ‘v’.

What parents can do

  • Talk to your baby right from birth and imitate their sounds.
  • Name things and talk about what you are doing. Use simple words and sentences at first.
  • Read books with them.
  • Have conversations with them every day.
  • Be interested when your child is talking to you. Don’t interfere or correct them.
  • Answer questions simply and clearly.
  • Allow them time to get out what they want to say.
  • Talk about pictures in books and name things in the pictures.
  • Sing songs and read rhymes.
  • Take them to the local library and read stories to them. Maybe you can borrow or buy the ones they particularly like.
  • Give a younger child a chance to talk without being interrupted by her older brothers and sisters.
  • If your child is stumbling over words because they’re excited, suggest that they tell you slowly. Then listen to them carefully.
  • Get down to their eye level when teaching your child a new word so they can see your lips and hear the word clearly.
  • For children with a severe hearing loss, it is important to find this out as early as possible – before 6 months.

Talk to your doctor or nurse if your child:

  • doesn't react to loud noises by the time they're 1 month old
  • doesn't turn their head to a noise or voice by 3 months. Hearing problems often cause speech difficulties
  • doesn't start to make single sounds – ‘ba ba’ – by 8 or 9 months
  • doesn't babble or make other sounds when someone talks to him by 12 months
  • is not starting to say single words by 12 months. (The words do not have to be clear, but they need to be used for the same thing each time – ‘mmm’ for mummy or ‘bo-bo’ for bottle.)
  • doesn't understand simple instructions by 2 years
  • frequently repeats sounds or part-words –  ‘Wh-wh-where’s my ba-ba-ball?’ – lengthens sounds or gets stuck on words – ‘m-m-m-m’ or ‘da-a-a-a-ad’
  • seems embarrassed or worried when they speak.

If you are ever worried about your child’s speech, talk to your child health nurse or your doctor. Your child may need to see a speech therapist. Your nurse or doctor can help with this.

More information

Local community, school or child health nurse

  • See inside your baby's purple All About Me book
  • Look in the service finder for child health centres
  • Visit your nearest child health centre

Local family doctor

Ngala Parenting Line 

  • 8.00am – 8.00pm 7 days a week
  • Phone: (08) 9368 9368
  • Outside metro area – Free call 1800 111 546 (free from land line only)
  • Visit the Ngala website (external site)

Raising Children Network

Last reviewed: 27-05-2019

Child and Adolescent Health Service – Community Health (CAHS CH)

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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