The Stages of Vocal Development

Bridget Hillsberg
January 10, 2022

During an infant’s first year of life, they’re doing much more than eating, sleeping, and crying. It’s amazing to consider just how productive they are “behind the scenes” as they develop their vocal skills and language.

The initial sounds of a newborn—crying, burping, sucking, sneezing—are soon joined by delightful cooing sounds and warm laughter! As they approach the half-year mark, babies become more social, leading to further vocal experimentation with their mouth, throat, and tongue. Funny sounds like squeals and growls make way for “for-real” consonant sounds—and the babbling begins! Before you know it, your baby is putting together sounds that seem like real words! We've broken it down a little further:

Vocal Development at 2-4 months

Cooing: These are the sounds babies make when they are happy (oohs & ahhs, goos & gahs).

Vocal Development at 4-6 months

Laughter: Your baby starts to giggle.

Vocal play: Your baby explores his mouth with his tongue, creating sounds like squeals, raspberries, and clicks.

Early babbling: Your baby initiates sound play by combining consonants (p, t, k, b, d, g) with vowels (ba, pa).

Vocal Development at 6-8 months

Reduplicative babbling: Your baby uses the same series of consonant-vowel or vowel-consonant syllables (bababa).

Vocal Development at 8-10 months

Nonreduplicative babbling: Consonant and vowels may differ from one syllable to the next (ba-ga-ba-ka).

Vocal Development at 10-12 months

Jargon: Your baby uses conversational intonation which starts to sound like adult speech without real words.

Word approximation: Your baby utters sounds that are consistently used to label specific items (“da” means down).

Stages of Vocal Development

You might find the chart below to be helpful—don’t forget to bookmark it!

TRUE OR FALSE: Most babies go through several stages of vocal development before saying their first word.

TRUE! Infants will go through the following stages as they develop the ability to produce and control vocalizations while transitioning into actual words:

2-4 months

  • Cooing
  • Oohs & ahhs, goos & gahs

4-6 months

  • Laughter
  • Vocal Play
  • Early Babbling  
  • Baby starts to giggle
  • Tongue sounds: squeals, raspberry, & clicks
  • Baby combines consonants (p, t, k, b, d, g) with vowels (ba,pa)

6-8 months

  • Reduplicative Babbling
  • Baby uses the same series of consonant-vowel or     vowel-consonant syllables (bababa)

8-10 months

  • Nonreduplicative Babbling
  • Consonants and vowels may differ from one syllable to the next (ba-ga-ba-ka)  

10-12 months

  • Jargon
  • Word Approximation
  • Baby uses conversational intonations which start to sound like adult speech without real words
  • Sounds that are consistently used to label specific items (“da” means down)

Let this chart be your guide to understanding your baby’s vocal development. Remember, these are milestones, meaning what MOST babies can do. Your baby may meet these milestones early on, or they may need a little additional support to help reach them.

As parents, what can we do to help vocal development?

Opera singer Mary Cole gives us some tips for encouraging our baby’s vocal development:

While still in utero...

Talk and sing to your baby! These playful and loving sounds can increase baby’s memory for both language and pitch.

Use Motherese.

Mother’s voice is most preferred by baby! Motherese is like a song, using a higher pitch, extended vowels, and greater pitch variation, which all work naturally to develop speech and singing as part of baby’s development. Motherese, a slower speech spoken more clearly and simply, often with exaggerated facial expressions, is easier for baby to understand.

Sing to your child often.

Traditional nursery rhymes and lullabies are naturally loved by your little one, and the calming effect of accompanied movement causes baby to associate music with calming and stimulating messages. Singing brings a dimension which speaking alone cannot provide.

Encourage your infant’s voice.

Face-to-face communication is key! There’s nothing like the human voice and positive praise! A screen or recorded voice is just not the same. Be present! Speak to your child often about familiar things, and explore language together through fun nonsense phrases and creative books.

Encourage your toddler’s voice.

Your toddler begins to realize that her needs are met faster if they’re articulated—and not necessarily through yelling! Music and singing become an important part of play.

Last, be patient.

It takes time for your toddler’s brain to figure out how to communicate with words. Be patient! Try not to interrupt or finish their sentences. Maintain eye contact and be a good listener!

Use your voice to make sound effects for animals, vehicles, and other imaginative scenarios. These noises strengthen their voice. Continue to sing stories, nursery rhymes, and children’s songs. And remember to have fun!

To learn simple and effective strategies to help get your little one talking, check out our Talk on Track (newborn-14 months) and Time to Talk: Toddler Course (15-36 months). We’d love to equip you to experience the joy of your little one talking to you!

Bridget Hillsberg
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