Chances are, your ears will automatically perk up around your baby’s first birthday, hoping to hear your little one’s first words. But, news flash, your bub’s inaugural “words” might not be exactly what you’re expecting…and you might just find yourself Googling “How much should my 1-year-old talk?” and “Should I be concerned if my 12-month-old isn’t talking?” Before you dive down that rabbit hole of worry, take a deep breath, and learn what your baby’s first foray into talking really sounds like.

When do babies start talking?

Adorable baby babbling usually begins between 4 and 7 months. You’ll overhear lots of “bah” or “dah” sounds as your little one experiments with volume and pitch. Then, when your baby reaches around 12 months old, their first “words” may start to emerge. Of course, “may” doesn’t mean “will.” The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) stresses that children “reach major milestones like talking through gradual progress from a series of smaller achievements” and that not all 1-year-olds are talking…and that’s okay.

How many words should a 12-month-old say?

At 1 year, most kids say one or two words. By 12 months, most kids have a special name they call their parent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Along those lines, the American Speech-Hearing Association notes that by 1 year a child should be able say one to two words (such as mama, dada, hi, dog, or uh-oh)—but those words might not necessarily sound clear!

What is the average vocabulary of a 12-month-old?

By the time your baby reaches their first birthday, the “bah,” “dah,” “gah,” and “ma” sounds they’ve been practicing may slowly morph into distinguishable “words.” By the way, for 12-month-olds, any sound that regularly refers to the same person, object, or event is considered a word. That means, when your sweet pea says ba-ba, moo, and toe-toe to mean bottle, milk, and stroller, they are, in fact, using their words!

Often, sounds become words quite accidentally. Your 12-month-old may stumble upon a sound (like “ma”) that causes a big reaction from grownups. Your excitement signals to your baby that they’ve said something meaningful, which encourages them to say it again and again. That’s likely why most 1-year-olds call a parent “mama” or “dada” or another special name by their first birthday!

But not all 1-year-old talkers start by naming their grownups. A small Journal of Child Language report found that most of the little ones studied said “this/that” or “here/there” at 1-year-old. Other popular first words in American English include ball, bye, hi, no, dog, baby, woof woof, and banana. Research has also shown that there’s a universality to first words, and certain first words show up across many languages! Among them include names for family members (mommy, daddy), social words (hi, bye), and sounds (woof woof, vroom).

And if your young toddler’s words leave you scratching your head, take heart: According to the AAP, your 1-year-old’s “words” likely resemble a mish-mosh of “gibberish that has the tones and variations of intelligible speech.”

How do 12-month-olds communicate?

Beyond babbling and early words, young toddlers are still very much into gesturing to communicate. That means blowing kisses, nodding, and pointing are likely in heavy rotation. Laughing, shouting, making animal noises, throwing, tugging, handing you objects, pushing away, and leading you to a specific spot are other go-to communication strategies for these tots. And while their “words” may sometimes be tricky to understand, your 12-month-old will change their tone of voice when babbling in order to express happiness or upset.

What are language milestones for a 12-month-old?

The AAP notes that most 12-month-olds…

  • Babble with inflection

  • Say “dada” and “mama”

  • Use exclamations, such as “oh-oh!” or “wow!”

  • Try to imitate words

  • Respond in some way to simple verbal requests and to “no”

  • Use simple gestures, likes as shaking their head for “no”

It’s important to note that the CDC is more conservative with their 12-month language and communication milestones, limiting their touchpoints to:

  • Wave “bye-bye”

  • Call a parent “mama” or “dada” or another name

  •  Show they understand “no” by briefly pausing when you say the word

Why can’t I understand my 1-year-old?

Your growing toddler is just learning how to talk, so it’s not going to be perfect speech! Their lips, tongue, throat, and brain all need to work together perfectly just to conjure up one word. Truth is that parents and regular caregivers only understand about 50% of a child’s speech at age 2! By age 3, that ekes up to 75%.

What do 12-month-olds understand?

Your 12-month-old understands way more than they can verbalize. In fact, according to Zero to Three, many 1-year-olds understand 25 or more words. Here’s just a hint at what’s going on between their ears before distinguishable words come out of their mouth:

  • Babies know “conversation basics.” From the get-go, infants begin to learn about the natural back-and-forth of communication. For instance, they learn that when they cry, someone responds. Later, they learn that when they coo, they get an immediate and loving response, which illustrates turn-taking.

  • 12-month-olds can link words​​ to actions. Your 12-month-old is starting to attach meaning to the words, phrases, and gestures they hear and see. So, when you say things like, “Let’s go outside,” “It’s time for a bath,” or “Where’s nana?” they’ll start to indicate that they know exactly what you’re talking about by, say, toddling to the stroller or bathtub or pointing to their grandmother. In fact, a 2021 study in the journal Cognition shows that 11- and 12-month-old recognize combinations of words (like “clap your hands”) even before they utter their first word.

  • 12-month-olds’ brains “practice” talking. Talking to babies stimulates areas of the brain that coordinate and plan the motor movements required for speech, according to University of Washington researchers. That means that your baby’s brain is starting to lay the groundwork of how to form words before they can actually talk.

What are signs of a speech delay for a 12-month-old?

If your 12-month-old isn’t talking yet, don’t worry! They are not considered a “late talker.” The AAP assures that as long as your 1-year-old regularly experiments with the intensity, pitch, and quality of sounds they make, (somewhat) understandable words are on the tip of their tongue! However, here are a few indicators that your child may be dealing with a speech delay. If any of these rings true to your kiddo, call your pediatrician for guidance.

  • Not gesturing at 12 months

  • Trouble imitating sounds at 18 months

  • Prefers gestures over vocalizations at 18 months

  • Only says “mama” or “dada” at 18 months

  • Difficulty understanding simple verbal requests at 18 months

  • Not putting two words together between 18 and 24 months

  • Only imitates speech, doesn’t produce words or phrases spontaneously at 2 years old

  • Can’t use oral language to communicate more than immediate needs by 2 years old


More on Communicating With Your Toddler:



  • American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP): My baby is turning a year old this month. Should she be talking by now?
  • AAP: Language Development: 8 to 12 Months
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Important Milestones: Your Child By One Year
  • Learning speaker- and addressee-centered demonstratives in Ticuna. Journal of Child Language. April 2022
  • Variability and Consistency in Early Language Learning, The Wordbank Project, Michael C. Frank, Mika Braginsky, Daniel Yurovsky, and Virginia A. Marchman, 2021
  • The Nemours Foundation, KidsHealth: Communication and Your 1- to 2-Year-Old
  • Great Ormond Street Hospital: Speech and language development (from 12 to 24 months)
  • AAP: Developmental Milestones: 12 Months
  • Zero to Three: Tips on Learning to Talk
  • ‘Clap your hands’ or ‘take your hands’? One-year-olds distinguish between frequent and infrequent multiword phrases. June 2021
  • University of Washington: Months before their first words, babies’ brains rehearse speech mechanics
  • The Nemours Foundation, KidsHealth: Delayed Speech or Language Development
  • CDC: Important Milestones: Your Child By Eighteen Months
  • American Speech-Language-Hearing Association: Early Identification of Speech, Language, and Hearing Disorders

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.