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I have a 12-month old girl. She understands a few words (like mommy, daddy) and maybe a few words (claps when we say "clap", waves when people say "hi" or "bye").

I can't tell if she's talking or not. When family members are around or babysitting they will say "she said hi, and ball, and daddy". But I have never heard her say any of those things. She says "da" a lot, but rarely exactly twice (sometimes "Da" other times "dadadadada"). Sometimes she says it when she sees her daddy, and sometimes when she sees her mommy, and plenty of times for no particular reason. A few weeks ago she said something like "book" while we were reading, but she hasn't said it since.

So my question is.... how do I know when she is actually talking? Since "da" has been her favorite syllable for months, how will I know when she says "dada"?

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2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Anongoodnurse's answer is spot on, but I wanted to add a couple of things.

First off, don't forget we as humans are amazing at pattern recognition, to the point that we see it where it doesn't belong. You'll hear her 'say' lots of things that seem like perfect words, once, but not again - because she didn't really say it, she just made a sound that your brain converted to a proper word. (This is why we can understand people talking, much of the time - you probably only really get half to two-thirds of what's said, but your brain figures out the rest. This is why Telephone is a fun game.)

Second, don't get too hung up on exactly what the word sounds like. It's very common for a child to be able to understand the concept of a word before being able to pronounce the sounds for that word. Especially at 12 months, which is still fairly early in the 'talking' spectrum, she may well understand there is a word 'mom', but not be able to say 'm' - so she says 'da' instead. Or, she uses 'da' to mean 'parent'. My seventeen month old can say a lot of words (15-20), but still often defaults to 'da' (his first real one) for things he can't pronounce - he points to them and says 'da', or sometimes he uses it for verbs he doesn't know. But it's clearly an attempt to communicate, and it often works. To me that's the more important aspect of things: the attempt to communicate, not whether it actually sounds remotely close to the word.

Finally; I wouldn't worry too much about defining 'talking' in any meaningful sense, unless she's over two and still not clearly talking. A lot of these things we as parents want to check off a box for 'does my child do X', but it's not that simple, and it's not really that important, either.

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I think these are really good points. –  anongoodnurse Aug 31 at 2:27
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This was a very interesting answer for me. babies saying "da" while pointing at something is a funny thing in German, where "da" means "there", and is done while pointing. Since "da", "dada", and "dadadadada" are very important first syllables to any baby learning to speak, in German it is harder to convince yourself that this "da" your child just said while pointing at daddy was only babbling, and not a meaningful exclamation. To know "da" is international (and thus not intentional) would have helped me two decades ago. :) –  sbi Sep 15 at 15:21

If you say dadadadada and she repeats it, she is parroting. If she sees her dada and says "dada", then she is talking. Basically, talking is saying something that reflects a shared reality. Children parrot before they talk.

Her first word will be when she says something appropriate (usually a noun) spontaneously. Bye (if she's leaving someone), dada when she reaches for her daddy, baba for her bottle, etc. Because it's spontaneous and not parroting, you will notice it. You won't miss her first word.

Much to my surprise, my son's first word was "moo", on seeing a cow in a book. I was surprised because usually I said it first while reading to him. Just to make sure, I read a few more pages and turned back to the cow, and he said it again, before me: "moo".

You may not be the one to hear her first true word, but she will repeat it, likely a few times before she says her second word. If you are her primary caretaker, it's likely that you'll hear it first, because you are the one who most consistently speaks these words to her (teaching her).

Don't worry about it, and enjoy her cooing and babbling. Her first word will come soon.

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