Baby talk

Baby talk
Parents are always delighted to hear their baby’s first words—especially when those words are mama or papa!

Parents are always delighted to hear their baby’s first words—especially when those words are mama or papa!

Nadège, mom to 22-month-old Médérik and six-month-old Dérek, was thrilled when her eldest said mama. “I was glad that was his first word because I was always with him,” she says. “But papa was his second word!” Like all babies, Médérik had lots of practice before saying mama. “Babies start babbling at the age of three to four months,” explains speech therapist Christine L’Heureux. “This includes making simple vowel sounds, such as ‘ahhh,’ in different tones or giving little shouts as they get a feel for their voice. After about six months, babies start saying things like ‘papapa, mamama, dadada’ and other series of syllables.”

Speech develops as babies learn to associate sounds they make with the meaning of the words. “This generally occurs around age one,” says L’Heureux.

First words

Since parents say mama and papa a lot, and both are easy to pronounce, these are often a child’s first words. First words are a way of naming useful objects or important people.

Did you know?
Generally speaking, boys are quicker to use the words car, vroom, and tractor, while girls are the first to say soft, beautiful, love, and gift. Among other things, this observation speaks to what babies are interested in and the different attitudes parents have toward the two sexes.

“Babies use them because they create a response or reaction,” L’Heureux explains. “Babies also tend to say words that they hear often.” That’s why words such as milk, hello, baby, bye, sleepytime, bath, blankie, doggy, and hi are common first words. The objects and activities that babies are interested in also influence their first words. For example, Nadège recalls that Médérik learned to say music early on. “I often put on music to dance with him,” she says.

The more words babies hear, the more they are able to understand and say. Between the ages of 18 and 24 months, babies begin uttering short sentences by pairing words together. Now almost two, Mérérik knows how to get a point across. “He makes wonderful sentences,” says Nadège. “He’ll say things like ‘I want milk’ or ‘I want a book.’ He’s always around people; my husband’s two older boys often play with him. That encourages him to talk.”

Why do some babies start talking earlier than others do?
“Babies learn to talk at their own pace,” says L’Heureux, “but the stimulation they get from the people around them and their own interests can come into play. Toddlers whose parents talk a lot and point out the names of objects may begin speaking earlier. Other babies are so interested in and preoccupied with developing their motor skills that they start talking later. Things usually balance out by around age three.”


Naître et grandir

Source: Naître et grandir magazine, January–February 2018
Research and copywriting: Julie Leduc
Scientific review: Solène Bourque, psychoeducator


Photo: Maxim Morin