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Sometimes when I try to teach my 9-month-old son words like "daddy" or "mummy", he stares blankly or gets distracted (which I guess is quite normal for that age). He coos (is this even a word?) and makes baby-like noises - blabbering, kisses, aahs, oohs, and so on.

Does anyone have any advice on how to get my 9-month-old son to attempt to say his first words like "daddy" or "da da"?

I've been repeating words like "daddy" and "mummy" in an attempt to get him used to the sounds and syllables.

Are there better times to teach babies their first words? (e.g. when they are bathing or eating).

Are there easier words to try first? Someone told me that babies normally say "daddy" first as this is easier than "mummy" although I don't really know why.

  • How are you trying to teach him so far? The only advice I have is to keep repeating the words, but that's probably what you're doing already. – Erik Jul 17 '15 at 11:12
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    Exactly, I've been repeating words, I'll add more to my post to say what I've been trying. – ibash Jul 17 '15 at 11:21
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    I don't know that I would try much more than what you're doing. 9 Months is pretty young. My girls talked somewhere around that age and we didn't really do a whole lot to try to get them to talk aside talk to them and make goofy sounds in their face. Their cousin was over 1 when she said her first words. – Kai Qing Jul 17 '15 at 23:01
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9 months is too early to expect them to speak yet and they'll pick it up when they're ready, usually before they're 2 years old.

What you can do at this stage is to take him with you as you go about your day. Give a running commentary about the things you see and do so they hear you speak and can match it to the world around them. Hearing language is their key to learning it.

If he is starting to make sounds which refer to people and things then (if you can work out what the sounds refer to) repeat those words back to him as part of a sentence. Don't worry if he isn't talking much as while some children will start with sounds and words then progress, others may be almost mute until they suddenly start talking in sentences.

Sometimes other children may make you think your child should be able to start talking now but it's not a race or a competition and before you know it your problem will be getting them to be quiet!

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    Let me add that the pace at which a child reaches their first developmental milestones is not an indicator of their capability or intelligence. Don't fret if your child is the last in your circle to do something. (And, likewise, don't start planning his Harvard Law career if he's the first.) – Nick2253 Jul 17 '15 at 16:19
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    When my son was young we found he seemed to understand at least some of what was said, even though he was too young to talk. Saying "We're going to the park now, so its time to put your coat on" as you are doing it helps him to associate the words with things that happen, which is just as important as learning the sounds. – Paul Johnson Jul 18 '15 at 16:39
  • Can you please cite where you found that 9 months is too young to speak? That doesn't match my experience or my research into the matter. 9 months is early, but children can and do speak even earlier than that. – user11394 Jul 19 '15 at 8:21
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    Thx for the feedback - It's not to young to speak, it's more that it's too young to expect them to speak. They may start, they may not, but it's not a time to push it. I don't have sources to hand but IIRC the advice from babycentre and nhs direct will have something along those lines and will be cited - I'll grab something and do an edit at some point. – James Snell Jul 19 '15 at 9:38
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Every child develops at his own pace, but let me say this: those coos, ohhs, and aahs are him speaking to you. You just haven't learned what he's saying. :)

He learns by listening, then repeating. The best technique for you teaching him is, therefore: talk, listen, encourage. Repeat.

Importantly, don't just say the same word over and again. That's how you train a parrot. Use the words in context, give a detailed play by play. Kids are sponges, and you want them to absorb the language not just words.

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Baby Sign Language

If your goal is communicating with your young child, and developing their language abilities, try sign language. Not standard adult sign language, modified simple Baby Sign Language.

Babies and toddlers gain control of their limbs and hands long before they can utter verbalizations. The cognitive ability for language arrives before the complicated skills needed to speak.

Many parents report surprising success. You may find that using a few signs is much more fun and productive than focusing on speech.

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    The question is about how to get the child to verbalize their first word, not how to increase communication with the baby. While I'm a huge proponent and user of infant ASL, this answer doesn't really have a place in this question. – user11394 Jul 19 '15 at 8:25
  • Hi, Basil. If you haven't been welcomed, please allow me to do so. Your answer, while it is about communication, does not address the OP's question ("...how to get my 9 month old son to attempt to say his first words like "daddy" or "da da"?") Please take a look at the Please see the site tour and the help sections, and When is an answer not an answer?. Thanks! Please don't be discourages; we'd love for you to stick around! – anongoodnurse Jul 19 '15 at 15:36
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Right now, your child is still primarily cooing or babbling, which is one of the ways infants learn to use the parts of their body necessary for speech. Cooing and babbling are good signs, and should be encouraged!

At 9 months, your son could start saying a recognizable word any day, or it could even be another 9 months away. Each child is different, and what age they start speaking within the 9 to 14 month range is generally not an indicator of advanced or delayed development, and 18 months isn't unusual.

Right now, continue speaking around and to your child, and encourage them to continue their babbling. Children initially learn language through reception, which means they start understanding what's being said to them. Only later (or possibly very soon for you) do they begin expressive language, where they start using words they know. As you continue talking to your baby, they'll start understanding more words. Eventually, they'll want to say them.

You may also want to try adjusting the manner in which you speak around your child. Specifically, it's worth investigating and trying Infant Directed Speech (IDS).

IDS, sometimes called baby talk, has a few specific characteristics, which do not include using made-up "baby" words, such as "wub wub" or "goochy goochy goo".

  • The pitch of the voice is higher
  • Vowels are stretched out
  • Pauses between words are slightly exaggerated

The theory is that using IDS in such a way makes it easy for an infant to discern when words start and stop, and thus separate one word from another.

While this is an exciting time, it will be important for you to properly manage your expectations, and not get frustrated if your child's first word is months away. Also, you won't really be able to influence which word is the first one she chooses to or is capable of saying. Continue using a variety of words, without necessarily focusing on repeating a single word. While he may not yet be speaking, his is still learning words (receptive language), and keeping up the variety of words not only exposes him to a greater vocabulary, but a greater variety of phonemes.

That said, my wife and I made sure to refer to one another by name whenever speaking around our son. Instead of, "Hi", it'd be "Hi, Mama." Instead of, "What's for dinner?" it'd be "What's for dinner, Papa?" I can't say it helped him say "Mama" or "Papa" any sooner, but I would say our conscious (over)use of those words helped him more quickly learn to understand them, and to associate them with the correct parent.

Here are some web references for you. They don't contain the scientific studies, but their information is consistent with the related research.

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  • "While this is an exciting time, it will be important for you to properly manage your expectations, and not get frustrated if your child's first word is months away." +1 Best advice possible! – anongoodnurse Jul 18 '15 at 20:21
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Adding to the wonderful answers, there is something you can do (besides being patient, and speaking to your child in meaningful ways, as already mentioned). You can read picture books to your child, adapting the text on the page in a flexible way. This encourages language development, and is a fun activity for both of you. If you are already doing this, keep it up, knowing that you are furthering your goal of helping your child become verbal!

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