Baby Steps: Language


There are two parts to language and communication:
Receptive language is the language you receive.
This is when you baby listens to what you are saying.
Expressive language is what your baby can say with words, motions, and expressions.
In the first months, your baby will coo with mostly vowel sounds, “ooh,” “aah.”
Consonants will come in later as baby starts to babble. Babies should have one word or sound by their first birthday.
Practice receiving and expressing with your baby.
When baby makes a noise, talk back to your baby. This give and take is practice for taking turns having a conversation. Use real words and sounds. Babies respond to high-pitched voices. Use sound and rhyme! Find old favorite nursery rhymes and learn (or create) some new ones.
Babies learn language by hearing it—just like you would learn a new language. Talk about what you are doing, name the things you are using. If your family speaks more than one language, talk, sing, and read in those languages.

About Lisa M. Asta, MD

Lisa M. Asta, M.D. is board-certified by the American Board of Pediatrics and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, for which she is also a Media Representative (she has been interviewed for “Kids Health” on Health Radio, and quoted in Parenting Magazine, USA Today, and the New York Times, among other publications). She is a Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the University of California at San Francisco and past pediatric chair at John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek. She graduated from Temple University School of Medicine and the Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Asta is also a writer whose fiction has appeared in Inkwell, Philadelphia Stories, Schuylkill, and Zeniada. Her essays have appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Hippocrates, the San Jose Mercury News, and The New Physician Magazine. She is an occasional contributor to KQED public radio’s Perspectives series, and has written articles for Bay Area Parent, Valley Parent, Parents’ Press, and Parents Express, as well as online at,, and She wrote a chapter in The Field Guide to the Normal Newborn, ed. Gary Emmet, M.D. currently has two how-to videos for parents in production which feature Dr. Asta. For more on Dr. Asta’s writing, visit
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