Baby's First Year · Parenting

Encouraging baby’s first words

father and daughter smiling at each other

Babies are beautiful and they grow quickly! One moment they are still, quiet, dependent observers and then it seems overnight they become rampaging, loud, independent explorers!  But sometimes our children don’t develop the way we expect them to.

Baby isn’t talking!  ‘Hmm, what’s going on?’  How many words should this baby be saying?  Is it too early to say ‘spoon’?

Well, thankfully we know the answers to many of these questions.  Let’s start by taking a look at how many words children are expected to use as they grow and develop over the first few years of life (these numbers are called the milestones for expressive language).


 12 months  3 – 5 words  –
 18 months  20 or more words  –
 24 months  100 – 200 or more words  2 or more word phrases

No matter what home language we use, by 12 months our children should be using 3 to 5 words consistently.  They might say, “Dada”, “Mama”, or “bah” for ‘ball’ – try to encourage their early efforts with enthusiastic praise and by using these familiar words often.

It’s also important to count spontaneous gestures like:

  • a ‘head shake’ for “No”
  • a ‘hand wave’ for “Hi”
  • any baby signs that you may have taught them for words like “more” and “all done”

Animal and vehicle sounds are other great spontaneous examples of expressive language in young children and a lot of fun for parents to use during play, sing-alongs, or reading times!


Try to encourage their early efforts with enthusiastic praise and by using these familiar words often.

If your child is not meeting their expressive language milestones, inform your child’s health care provider and call Early Abilities to refer your child for a speech and language assessment at (416) 338-8255 or visit our website to make an online referral.

Follow our blog to learn more about your child’s growth and development.

As of April 1, 2022 the Preschool Speech and Language, Blind-Low Vision and Infant Hearing programs have moved from Toronto Public Health (Early Abilities) to Surrey Place. To register for services or learn more about the programs, please visit Surrey Place or call 416-925-5141.

8 thoughts on “Encouraging baby’s first words

  1. Hi, I’m wondering what the source is for these milestones, especially the 3-5 words by 12 months. It’s news to me that babies should have some words by 12 months and I wondered if this is new information? My 11 month old has a lot of work to do if she’s to learn 3 words in the next month!

    1. Thank you for your comment. In 2008 the Ontario Ministry of Child and Youth Services updated all screening documents related to speech and language milestones in the Preschool population with emphasis on the 12–48 month ranges. Please check out our website for more info.

      If you have any further questions/concerns, please connect with us directly @ 416-338-8255

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