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Helping your child learn to talk: speech, language and communication

This page covers what you need to know about speech, language and communication.

Communicating with your baby during pregnancy

Two pairs of hands holding a pregnant belly

Communicating with your baby starts as soon as you become pregnant. Your baby can hear voices a few weeks into pregnancy, and you can talk and sing to your baby in the womb. You can also rub your bump and play music. 

Chatting and singing to your bump helps your baby recognise your voice when they are born. Including your loved ones can also help them to communicate too.

BBC Tiny Happy People can help you understand the importance of talking to your baby during pregnancy

Communicating with your baby once they’re born

From birth, your baby can recognise familiar voices and respond to eye contact.

Here are some ways you can start to talk and communicate with your baby:

  • Look directly into your baby’s face and make eye contact. 
  • Talk to your baby and make sounds exaggerating your mouth movements and facial expressions, as your baby develops, they will start to “mirror” or copy these movements. 
  • Describe what you are doing such as running the bath or cooking the dinner. Try using a soft baby voice, a sing-song tone or a slightly higher pitch.
  • Start reading and telling stories to your baby from an early age. It doesn’t matter if these are made up.
  • Talk to your baby when attending to their needs such as nappy changing, feeding and bath time.
  • Encouraging mouth movements will strengthen your baby’s mouth and tongue muscles which will help them prepare to talk.

Your baby will try and communicate with you, even before they are using words, by giving you signs. For example:

  • Rubbing their eyes: this may be a sign they’re sleepy and need a nap.
  • Kicking their legs and going red in the face: this could mean they need a nappy change, have wind or need burping.
  • Making movements with their mouth or chewing their fist or your finger: this usually means they are hungry and ready for a feed.
  • Making an “O” shape with their mouth: this usually means they are excited and want to play or communicate with you.
  • Looking away: this may be a sign that they have had enough and no longer want to play. 

Tips to support speech, language and communication development

  • Make time for playing and chatting with your child every day. Let them lead the conversation so they can talk about what interests them. This will help them learn words more quickly.
  • Get down to your child’s level if you can, perhaps by sitting on the floor with them and playing with toys. This helps you be sure you’re talking about what interests them most.
  • Pause and wait for your child to show you what they are interested in. 
  • Watch, listen and respond – your child may communicate by using words, pointing, making sounds or movements.
  • Describe what your child is doing or looking at – try to imagine what they’re thinking and feeling. 
  • When your child can say a word, copy what they say or mean and add a word. For example, if your child says “car” you can reply with “big car”, “fast car” or “red car”. 
  • Make comments rather than asking your child questions. Questions can feel like a test to children.
  • When you do ask questions, ask open questions that encourage more than just “Yes” or “No” answers. Try starting questions with “Where”, “Who”, “When” and “Why”. 
  • Show your child you’re interested in what they’re doing and you’re enjoying being with them by smiling and using an interested voice.
  • Share books with your child. This doesn't mean you have to read all the words – you can talk about the pictures.
  • Make sure there isn’t background noise such as the TV or radio when you’re talking to and playing with your child.
  • Make eye contact with your child and let them see your mouth when you speak.
  • Name objects as you’re playing or doing household tasks.
  • Offer your child choices such as a piece of fruit or a yoghurt, name the items and encourage them to choose by pointing at the object or using the word. 
Young girl and adult woman playing together

For more information and ideas on how to help your baby or child’s speech, language and communication development, visit:

Making time for your baby or child 

Busy family life can make it feel harder to spend quality time with your child and enjoy “together time.” 

You can spend quality time together during your everyday routine, including special times to talk and play.

Smiling boy hugging adult woman

Here are some examples of when you can do this:

  • Nappy changes
  • Bath time   
  • Mealtimes 
  • Out and about 
  • Bedtime 
  • At the shops 
  • Sharing books  
  • At toddler group 
  • Playing with toys  

For more information, see our Five to Thrive page.

When your family speaks more than one language at home

Speaking more than one language is an advantage at any age. Some children may start speaking more than one language at the same time and others may pick up a second language slightly behind the first.

Use the language that feels most natural to you when speaking with your child at home, so they can learn from you correctly. Don’t worry if you don’t use English in the home, as your child will learn when they start nursery or school.

Your child may be able to understand more than one language but may express themselves better in the language they hear most often.

For more information, visit:

What to do if you have any concerns

Although children develop speech and language at different rates, here’s what you can do if you’re worried:

  1. Try our “top tips” with your child to see if this helps.
  2. If your child hasn’t started nursery or school yet, contact your health visitor or local children’s centre or family hub for advice.
  3. If your child is with a childminder, pre-school, nursery school or school, discuss your concerns with them to see if they have noticed the same things and have any ideas what you can do to help. 
  4. You may need support from your local speech and language therapy service. Your health visitor or GP can give you more information on this.

Speech and Language UK has covered the signs and symptoms of speech and language challenges, and also has a free parent support enquiry line you can use.

The content of this page has been co-produced in partnership with the iHV.

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Last updated on 14 February 2024