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Children talking at a table

The Importance of ‘babbling’ in Language Development

‘Babbling’ is when your child is playing around making different speech sounds e.g. “baba”. The utterances are not yet recognisable words and your child is not intentionally trying to send you a message but, instead, they are having fun producing different sequences of sounds.

Some recent research completed by McGillion et al (2017) highlights the importance of babbling in predicting when a child will produce their first words.

In the study, 46 English-speaking children, were chosen. Their babble and pointing skills were assessed whilst they were 9-18 months old. They were regularly recorded during free-play at their homes and parents/carers also kept a diary recording any new communicative behaviours that their children displayed.

The results showed:

  • Children typically started babbling 3 months before they started pointing.
  • Most of the children typically started babbling at 10 months of age.  By 15 months of age, all the children were babbling and, by 18 months of age, all the children were pointing.
  • The start of babbling did predict when a child would use first words
  • The start of pointing predicted the range of words which the child would understand at 18 months.

How does Babbling Encourage a Child’s First Words?

It’s suggested that, because parents/carers respond to their child’s babble, this:

  • Makes it obvious to the child what communication is about: it is a two-way process with one person speaking, the other person listening and then responding.
  • Encourages the child to continue to practice making sounds
  • Helps the child to realise the role of first words

How does Pointing Predicts a Child’s Understanding of Words?

  • Pointing requires a child to have developed ‘joint attention’ (the ability to share attention with somebody else). ‘Joint attention’ is a key skill for successful communication so pointing gives a child lots of practice with this skill.
  • Carers respond to their child’s pointing by commenting and labelling what they are pointing to. This helps to build their child’s understanding levels.

What Can You Do to Develop Their Childrens’ Babbling and Pointing Skills

  • Give your child the opportunity to babble/point – pause and wait before you begin to speak to see if your child will babble or point. Sometimes, we can be so keen to talk to our child and give them lots of language models to hear that we do not give them time to communicate with us.
  • Imitate your child’s babble – copy the sounds that they are making. This will make your child feel powerful as they know you are attending to them and it may also encourage them to continue to babble. This will then set up a good two-way interaction with both you and your child taking turns.
  • Respond to your child’s pointing – if your child points to something (with or without vocalising), follow their point and comment/label it using one or 2 words e.g. “Car” “banana” “mummy’s shoes”

If you have any concerns about your child’s sound-making/babbling/pointing skills, please feel free to contact Speech Right to speak to one of our speech and language therapists here in Nottingham, who will be happy to provide advice.


Reference: McGillion, M., Herbert, J.S., Pine, J., Vihman, M., dePaolis, R., Keren-Portnoy, T., & Matthews, D. (2017). What Paves the Way to Conventional Language? The Predictive Value of Babble, Pointing, and Socioeconomic Status. Child Development, 88(1), 156-166.