Language Development: Birth to Six Months

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Welcome to the first part in our Language Development series. In this series we will be covering the communication milestones that typically developing children achieve from birth up until school age. In this installment we will cover the communication milestones that a typically developing child will achieve between birth and six months of age.

Long before your child says their first word, they are already working hard on their communication skills. The language milestones a child should achieve in their first six months of life are subtle, and so can be easily overlooked. At this age they are building the foundation they will need for communication, and many of the milestones are social, rather than verbal.

While most children will achieve these milestones effortlessly, without us almost realising it, it is important to be aware them. Many children who are diagnosed with communication impairments later in life showed delays in these very early skills. This post will walk you through each of these little steps, and what to expect within your child’s earliest months.

 0 TO 3 MONTHS OF AGE

Responding to sounds

Hearing and auditory processing are some of the earliest skills your little bundle of joy will develop. In fact, research has shown that babies hear and can recognise their mother’s voice in the womb. From the time they are born they can distinguish her voice from others.

A few days after their birth, the hospital staff will give your child a hearing screening test. This test should tell you if your little one might have a hearing loss (this test is not always accurate, so an actual hearing test at a couple of years old always a good idea). Hearing is essential for your child’s verbal communication development. Babies are hard-wired to listen for language, and they will show signs that they recognise speech over other sounds. You should notice that your infant changes their behaviour when they hear someone talking (especially familiar voices), often quieting and listening intently.

Giving eye contact

From birth, a typically developing infant will show interest in looking at faces. This is a precursor for eye contact. Within mere months, as their vision and social interest develops, your baby will begin to make eye contact and hold it for longer and longer periods of time. They will also show signs of enjoyment when sharing eye contact, by smiling and cooing.

Smiling

I bet you didn’t know smiling was an important communicative milestone! Not only is it incredibly sweet to see your little one start smiling between four and six weeks, but it can also tell you whether they’re noticing the outside world and enjoying social interaction. Around a month or so of age your child will be smiling when they see your smile, and when they see something or someone they particularly enjoy.

Cooing and gurgling

At around 8 weeks of age, you will notice your little guy or girl making some seriously sweet sounds. These ‘ooh’s, ‘aah’s and sighs are your baby’s earliest attempt at verbal communication. At this stage in their development they are experimenting with and building up their oral coordination and voice. You will often find that as they get older they will coo and make noises in response to you talking to them. This is a big step toward reciprocal communication.

 4 TO 6 MONTHS

Distinguishing between basic emotions

From around the four months mark, your little guy or girl will begin to recognise and respond to the emotional expressions of others. The smiles and laugher of the people around them will have them responding in kind. You will also notice them mimicking and mirroring the emotions of others.

Distinguishing between people

At the same time that babies are learning about others emotions, they are also beginning to recognise the people around them, beyond their immediate family. By 6 months, an infant will begin to experience what is known as stranger anxiety, becoming fussy or upset when held or played with by an unfamiliar person.

Tracking faces

As a baby’s visual system develops and can discriminate more detail, they begin to show an affinity for looking at faces, particularly those of their primary care-givers. This is an important social milestone, when, as humans, our communication relies on the verbal and non-verbal communication (such as facial expression) we do with our faces.

Reduplicated babbling

Above we talked about the sweet sounds of babies gurgling and cooing being a little ones first foray into verbal exploration. Well, babbling is ramping things up a little. Babbling is different from cooing in that it contains consonant sounds, and is a little more purposeful than those early gurgles and sighs. Around six months your guy or girl will begin with the first of two forms of babbling, known as reduplicated or canonical babbling. Reduplicated babbling consisted of the repetition of the same sounds over and over, such as ‘ma-ma-ma’ or ‘di-di-di’. These meaningless sounds are your child practising and exploring their sound making skills, preparing them for a lifetime of talking to come.

Oral motor exploration

At this stage you may also find your bub engaging in some other exploratory mouth movements, like blowing raspberries and clicking their tongue. This developmental milestone ties in closely with babbling, as it also serves to help him or her gain more experience and control over their mouth.

There you have it, the communication milestones to expect in your child’s first six months. There’s a lot of development happening for such a little person. If you would like to learn about the following months between 6 months and one year of age, you can read my post about that here.

Please note that all children achieve these milestones at different ages, and the information above is based on the average age that the majority of typically developing children will achieve each milestone. If you have any concerns about your child’s language development or have questions about the information within this post, please don’t hesitate to get in touch by email or leaving a comment below.

Learn more about typical language development with these other posts in our language development series:

Six to Twelve Months
One Year Old
Two Years Old
Three Years Old
Four Years Old
Five Years Old