Why do baby’s communication skills matter?
The communication skills that babies learn in their first year set the stage for success in developing reading, writing, and social skills later in life. Parents can begin encouraging baby’s communication from the time they are born.
How does my baby communicate?
Babies communicate through their cries, coos, facial expressions, and body language long before they say their first words. From birth, babies begin to develop two sets of communication skills: receptive skills and expressive skills.
Receptive communication is the ability to receive and understand a message from another person. Babies demonstrate this skill by turning their head towards your voice and responding to simple directions.
Expressive communication is the ability to convey a message to another person through sounds, speech, signs, or writing. Crying, babbling, and using body language are examples of your baby’s early expressive skills.
For a detailed list of communication milestones in the first three years, see our milestones chart.
Common Questions On Language Development
How can I encourage my baby’s communication development?
You can encourage communication development by smiling, talking, playing, and reading with your baby. It will help them develop the communication skills needed to build meaningful relationships and succeed in school.
See our Baby Milestones Calendar for more ways to support your child’s communication development, including games and activities to encourage your child’s communication.
Is my baby on track with communication milestones?
While every child develops at their own pace, our milestone chart can serve as a general guide for what to expect in the first three years.
0-3 Months Old Communication Milestones
- Quiets or smiles in response to sound or voice
- Turns head towards sound or voice
- Shows interest in faces
- Makes eye contact
- Cries differently for different needs (e.g. hungry vs. tired)
- Coos and smiles
4-6 Months Old Communication Milestones
- Reacts to sudden noises or sounds
- Listens and responds when spoken to
- Begins to use consonant sounds in babbling, e.g. “da, da, da”
- Makes different kinds of sounds to express feelings
- Notices toys that make sounds
- Uses babbling to get attention
7-9 Months Old Communication Milestones
- Uses increased variety of sounds and syllable combinations in babbling
- Looks at familiar objects and people when named
- Recognizes sound of their name
- Participates in two-way communication
- Follows some routine commands when paired with gestures
- Shows recognition of commonly used words
- Simple gestures, e.g. shaking head for “no”
- Imitates sounds
10-12 Months Old Communication Milestones
- Meaningfully uses “mama” or “dada”
- Responds to simple directions, e.g. “Come here”
- Produces long strings of gibberish (jargoning) in social communication
- Says one or two words
- Imitates speech sounds
- Babbling has sounds and rhythms of speech
- Pays attention to where you are looking and pointing
- Responds to “no”
- Begins using hand movements to communicate wants and needs, e.g. reaches to be picked up
13-18 Months Old Communication Milestones
By 15 months:
- May use 5-10 words
- Combines sounds and gestures
- Imitate simple words and actions
- Consistently follows simple directions
- Shows interest in pictures
- Can identify 1-2 body parts when named
- Understands 50 words
By 18 months:
- Responds to questions
- Continues to produce speech-like babbling
- Points at familiar objects and people in pictures
- Understands “in” and “on”
- Responds to yes/no questions with head shake/nod
- Repeats words overheard in conversation
19-24 Months Old Communication Milestones
By 21 months:
- Uses at least 50 words
- Consistently imitates new words
- Names objects and pictures
- Understands simple pronouns (me, you, my)
- Identifies 3-5 body parts when named
- Understands new words quickly
By 24 months:
- Begins to use 2 word phrases
- Uses simple pronoun (me, you, my)
- Understands action words
- Uses gestures and words in pretend play
- Follows 2-step related direction e.g. “Pick up your coat and bring it to me”
- Enjoys listening to stories
2-3 Years Old Communication Milestones
By 30 months:
- Consistently uses 2-3 word phrases
- Uses “in” and “on”
- At least 50% of speech is understood by caregiver
- Follows 2-step unrelated directions, e.g. “give me the ball and go get your coat”
- Understands basic nouns and pronouns
- Understands “mine” and “yours”
By 36 months:
- Ask “what” and “where” questions
- Uses plurals, e.g. “dogs”
- Most speech is understood by caregiver
- Simple understanding of concepts including color, space, time
- Understands “why” questions
- Understands most simple sentences
If your child is not meeting communication milestones, trust your instincts and discuss your concerns with a healthcare provider. Don’t hesitate to schedule a screening with a speech-language pathologist – many clinics offer developmental screenings for free.