Infant Sounds: From Coos and Babbles to First Words
By Amanda Adkins, Speech/Language Pathologist
Many children under the age of 2 receive speech and language services. Parents of babies and toddlers often have questions about what sounds their children should be producing, what types of communication they should look for, how to promote speech and language at such an early age, and when to be concerned. The following provides a quick overview to commonly asked questions about infant speech and language development.
What sounds or words should I listen for during my infant’s first year(s)?
At 0-2 months, listen for:
- Different sounding cries for various needs
- Coos which are elongated vowel sounds, such as “ooo” or “aaa”
- Vegetative sounds which are sounds made during feeding, such as burps or coughs
At 2-4 months, listen for:
- Mostly vowel sounds, but a few consonants emerge during cooing and crying or when child makes vegetative sounds
- Pleasure sounds, such as “mmm”
At 4-6 months, listen for:
- Coos, gurgles and laughs
- Playing with sounds, such as squealing or babbling and waiting for a response from caregiver
- Babbling: At this stage infants often use “p,” “b,” and “m” sounds in babbling. They also begin to direct babbling to others and imitate sounds in back-and-forth babbling games.
- “Front sounds” made using the lips, such as raspberries and lip smacks
- Pitch changes
At 6-10 months, listen for:
- Reduplicated babbling: A variety of consonants and vowels, but consonants repeating themselves, such as “baba,” “mama” and “nuhnuh”
- “Singing" along with music without using real words
- Exclamatory phrases, such as “ooh”
At 10-12 months, listen for:
- First true word
- Vocalizing with intent/meaning
- Variegated babbling: Different combinations of consonants and vowels, such as “bada”
- Loud babbles/jabbers with a wide variety of sounds and tones/pitches
- Imitation of coughs, hisses, raspberries, tongue clicks, etc.
At 12-18 months, listen for:
- Approximately 3-20 words and the beginning of an active interest in imitating words (Note: endings are often left off words, such as “bo” for “boat")
- Sentence-like strings of babbling that sound like the infant is “talking” or having a conversation
- Child referring to himself/herself by name
How else does my baby try to communicate?
In addition to vocalizing, babies communicated and interact in a variety of other ways, such as smiling and gesturing.
- Typically, babies 0-3 months old will smile and attempt to imitate facial expressions. These skills help to foster social interaction and strengthen the bond between caregiver and child.
- Children 3-6 months interact with parents by displaying pleasure in response to adult talk and displeasure when they are upset or frustrated.
- Children 6-9 months begin to play social games such as peek-a-boo, and wave or respond to “bye-bye.” During such game play, they often smile, laugh and show anticipation of what is going to happen.
- Children 9-12 months show toys to adults to gain their attention and imitate parents’ gestures.
- Children 12-18 months gesture to communicate, often by pointing to objects for parents to get or to name. Children in this age range also communicate when they need help by handing toys to adults for assistance.
How do I encourage communication when my baby is not “talking” yet?
Even though children under 12 months of age generally are not producing single words, parents can still stimulate their infant’s speech and language. Parents should treat utterances, such as cooing, gurgling and babbling, as real language and respond to these utterances. Early speech and language stimulation often involves “back and forth” games where the parents imitate the infant’s sounds and vice versa. Parents should also talk to their babies during daily routines, such as feeding, bathing and dressing. While talking during these routines, speech should be kept simple and concrete. (For example, during dressing caregivers could use repetitive language such as “shoes on, socks on, shirt on,” etc.).
Parents can also model nonverbal communication, like pointing to a plane as it passes by, as a means of commenting on surroundings. Making eye contact and attending to what the infant is interested in are also effective ways to bond and to communicate with your child. Furthermore, families should acknowledge an infant’s attempts to communicate by smiling, looking at or commenting on the child’s intentional behavior. If the infant is refusing or requesting either by gestures or words, parents should try to honor the communication by stopping an activity or providing desired items to acknowledge and reinforce the baby’s attempt. Always praise attempts to communicate!
What are some risk factors for a language delay?
The first years of life are critical for speech and language development. Chronic ear infections can impact speech and language, especially if left untreated. Children learn speech and language by listening to others talk. If the child has some degree of hearing loss, they will not get the full benefit of language learning experiences.
A family history of language and learning difficulties is also a significant risk factor for a language delay. If an immediate family member, such as a parent or sibling, has experienced a language or learning difficulty, then parents should monitor their baby’s development closely. Asking your pediatrician about developmental milestones is a good place to start.
What should I do if I am concerned about my child’s speech and language development?
Concerns can be addressed with your child’s pediatrician. The pediatrician will be familiar with speech and language milestones and can refer you to a speech/language pathologist, if needed. You can also contact a speech/language pathologist directly and schedule an evaluation. The speech/language pathologist can help you to determine if direct intervention is needed.
Additionally, children ranging in age from birth to 3 may be eligible for early intervention services, which take place in a natural setting, such as child care or the home. These services focus on speech and other developmental areas. Infants and toddlers in Virginia are eligible to have their development checked at no cost to the family through Virginia’s statewide early intervention system, known as The Infant and Toddler Connection of Virginia. This evaluation determines eligibility for early intervention services.
Originally published in the August 2008 issue of Tid*Bits
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