Communication: Know the Basics

What is Communication?

It may seem like a simple question, but communication is more than talking! It is any form of message sent from one party to another, through sounds, words or physical hints, like body language.

Baby won’t say their first meaningful words until they are about a year old. But even if they can’t form words yet, baby is still trying to communicate with you through cries, coos, facial expressions, and body language!

How can I encourage my baby’s communication development?

When it comes to communication, baby learns by watching the people around them. Even if baby doesn’t have the vocabulary to have a conversation with you, it’s very helpful for their communication development if you talk to them!

Here are some other ways to encourage communication development:

  • Use a high-pitched, sing-song voice. This helps get and keep your baby’s attention.
  • Play with sounds. Don’t be afraid to get silly!
  • Use facial expressions and gestures to communicate the meaning of words.
  • Describe your actions as you dress, feed, and bathe your child.
  • Encourage two-way communication. When your child communicates with you using sounds, words, or gestures, be sure to respond and take turns in the “conversation”.
  • Read with your child. “Reading” can simply mean describing pictures without following the written words. Choose books with large, colorful pictures, and encourage your child to point to and name familiar objects.
  • Expand your child’s vocabulary by building on the words they already know. For example if your child says “dog” you could say “Yes, that’s a big dog!”
  • Reword your child’s phrases. If your child makes a speech or language error, respond with the phrase in the correct form. This helps them learn proper pronunciation and grammar. For example, if your child says “Doggy big” you can respond with “Yes, the doggy is big.”

What does communication help with?

Communication plays such an important role in our lives. It is the cornerstone of healthy relationships. It is the vehicle for sharing our joy, fear, and other emotions. It is how we learn new things at school and work, and teach others those same skills. The benefits of communication long outlast childhood.

When will my baby start talking?

Baby will begin making consonant sounds, such as “da, da, da”, at around 4-6 months. They will also begin to imitate sounds around 7-9 months. But they typically don’t say meaningful language, such as calling the right people “mama” and “dada”, until around their first birthday.

Learn more below about communication milestones.



Receptive and Expressive Communication Skills

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. When babies are listening, they turn their head toward your voice, and will then respond to simple directions, often with vocalizations. Early on, these vocalizations will just be sounds, but as baby approaches their first birthday, they will begin to use meaningful language.

receptive_communicationExpressive communication is the ability to convey a message to another person through sounds, speech, signs, or writing. Babies use expressive communication by crying, babbling, and using body language.


Watch to learn more about baby's communication development:

Communication Milestones

Baby’s communication skills will develop quickly, so we have some helpful videos to keep track of their progress!

0-3 Months

At this age, baby will be make quiet coos and smiling. Remember to communicate with your baby regularly so they can watch and learn!

4-6 Months

While baby still isn’t forming words, they’ll react more to your communication. They’ll also begin to make consonant sounds, which are the building blocks for full words.

7-9 Months

The variety of sounds baby can make will increase. They’ll also begin recognizing important words, like their own name!

10-12 Months

This is when baby typically begins using words in meaningful ways! They’ll use basic, easy words like “mama” or “dada” to identify their parents, along with using other communication tools.

13-18 Months

Your toddler’s vocabulary is growing! They’ll understand dozens of words, may use 5-10 words (or more!) on their own, and answer basic questions.

19-24 Months

At this age, your toddler’s language skills continue to advance. By their second birthday, they’ll begin using two-word phrases, follow directions, and enjoy listening to stories.


What is Baby Sign Language?

Baby sign language is the use of hand and body gestures to help babies communicate before they learn to speak, which typically happens around their first birthday.

Learn More

Communication Activities

From talking, to singing, to reading books with you, help your child learn how to communicate


What to Watch For

What to do if your child is experiencing a communication delay

If you notice your child is experiencing a speech delay, or having any trouble with understanding communication and/or communicating to you, it’s best to talk to your healthcare provider. There are many possible solutions that they can help you explore!

One type of healthcare provider that often deals with communication issues is a speech-language pathologist. They help children find ways to communicate effectively through verbal and non-verbal language. A child may need to see a speech-language pathologist if they experience difficulty:

  • Feeding or swallowing – unable to safely eat or drink age-appropriate foods and liquids
  • Articulating certain sounds
  • with fluent speech, like stuttering
  • Difficulty using words, phrases, and sentences to communicate at an age appropriate level – needs help using words to communicate and/or turning words into phrases
  • Difficulty understanding information such as directions or questions – needs help understanding words spoken to them
  • Difficulty organizing information and regulating behavior

Connect with your child’s primary provider to see if a speech-language pathologist is right for them.