Why does my baby babble?

23 September, 2018

Have you ever thought about the purpose of a baby’s babble? “…babbabaaaa…didididid…mama mama…gugugugugu…” This pattern of repetitive sound-making is actually a very significant and important stage in your child’s language development. A recent study found that the age at which your baby starts to babble predicts when he will say his first words!

So, what is the typical development of babble?

During the first few months of life, babies learn to use lots of sounds such as crying, cooing, laughing, etc. These sounds are not often under conscious control and are more like a reflex.

However, between around 5 and 10 months of age, babies begin to make syllables that contain both a consonant and vowel. These can be made up of a string of repeated syllables such as “baba” or “du du,” or a combination of different syllables, such as “ma, di, da” or “bu, gu, da.” This is known as canonical babbling. This type of sound play is a major milestone in a baby’s language development because these syllables closely resemble those he will produce when he begins to use words.

As baby continues to develop, his babbling begins to sound more and more like conversation, which is often referred to as jargon. This type of sound-play sounds a lot like adult speech.

After about a year of making various sounds and syllables, children start to say their first words.

Did you know?

  • The sounds, rhythm and tone of a baby’s babble is influenced by the language to which they are exposed. So, an English baby will babble very differently to a Chinese baby!
  • Children who are delayed in their development of sounds or babble are at a greater risk of communication delay.
  • The consonants used in a baby’s babble are usually the consonants that appear in his first words.
  • Babies exposed to more than one language at a time babble as much as babies exposed to only one language.

Can I use my child’s babble to develop his language?

Absolutely! Here are some tips to do just that…

  • Pause & wait for your child to babble – Instead of filling any silences with your own talking, try saying nothing and waiting expectantly for your child to initiate. This will encourage him to make more sounds, more often, when he’s ready.
  • Observe & interpret – Observe your child to see if they are simply playing with sounds, or whether they are intentionally trying to send you a message. If your child is looking and pointing at something at the same time as babbling, they’re probably trying to tell you something! At this point, you should put his message into words. For example, if he points to a car outside the window, you could interpret this by saying “There’s a CAR!” whilst pointing to the car yourself. Consistent interpreting of your child’s messages will build his understanding and eventually his spoken vocabulary.
  • Imitate your child’s babble – If your child is playing around with sounds and not sending you a specific message, try imitating his sounds in a fun way. This will show him that you are paying attention and that his sounds have caught your interest, which in turn will motivate him to babble again. This will help your child make the “communication connection” – the realisation that his communicative actions have an effect on others, a huge motivator for a child to talk. It will also develop his turn-taking skills – a key ingredient for a great future conversationalist!

So, what shall I do if my child isn’t babbling…?

If you’re worried that your child is not using sounds the way he should for his age, talk to your local Speech Therapist or give us a call for an informal chat.

Happy babbling! 🙂

Sarah Carroll