Baby’s speech development: What you need to know

Baby’s speech development: What you need to know

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Dr Jane Williams and Bindy Cummings

The first act of speech is the birth cry ‘I have arrived’. Crying continues to be the means of communication for the first few months. Parents soon recognise the different patterns of cry – the ‘I’m hungry cry’, ‘I need you’, ‘I am hurt’, ‘I’m sleepy’, ‘I’m tired’ and so on. Close behind, happy sounds come along indicating ‘I’m happy’, ‘I’m being attended to’, ‘Mum’s around me’, ‘I’m being talked to’, etc.

See GymbaROO’s video, full of more information, tips and activities:  Baby speech and language development: When, why, how.


In the first few months after birth, communication is purely reflex and spontaneous. We hear a variety of sounds from our baby. These vocalisations are a spontaneous response of the motor system.

Sensory-motor loop

There is a flood of information going into the baby’s brain through the five senses. The auditory pathway plays a significant role in developing hearing and listening and is crucial for speech and language skill development. The ongoing, constant information processing matures the pathways and sets in motion the experiments and language experiences that develop as skills for language and communication.

Speech is probably the most complex motor output of the brain. When all systems are working and firing, speech is a spontaneous expression.

When an infant’s neurophysiology is not able to keep up with all the demands of development, speech seems to be one of the natural choices of compromise. Nature (the brain) holds back in this area to give attention to other needs elsewhere.

Baby’s speech development GymbaROO BabyROO

State of wellbeing

For normal speech and language to be acquired, the auditory pathway has to work well. Signals have to arrive in the central nervous system. As a baby integrates these incoming messages, she is able to store and retrieve them as required. Allergies, middle ear infections, recurrent colds and coughs and general weakness of physiology can interfere and delay the signals arriving and therefore the motor responses of communication.

Early childhood movements such as rolling, commando crawling and creeping, strengthen the foundation for speech and language skills. A stronger, healthier physiology allows for longer vocalisation and a wider variation of sounds. The better the respiratory reserves, the louder and longer the sounds emitted. Lack of vital capacity and respiratory reserves may delay the support and promotion of speech.

The influence of movement in the moulding of speech, (articulation and pronunciation), cannot be understated. All movement activates the co-ordination and integration centres in the brain. The articulators of speech in the mouth are also the articulators for the chewing of food. There is a normal progression for a baby from pureed soft foods to more chewy foods about the same time as the babbling phase begins, during which time there is lots of practising of the sound skills needed for adult speech.

Baby’s speech development GymbaROO BabyROO

Great awareness

As a baby continues to listen to mum, dad and a whole range of environmental sounds, tonal recognition takes place. Words spoken with kind tones are well received and, when baby is ready, this perception is reciprocated with smiles, cooing and gurgles! On the other hand, angry tones, even if not directed at baby, can trigger discomfort, fear and tears. The content of what is being said is not the focus, rather the tone of voice is. A baby does not understand what is being said, but reacts to the manner of presentation.

The first year of life is the key period in which speech sounds are laid down in the memory pathways of the brain. This is the time to introduce a second language and to expose your baby to variety of language based sounds. Talk, sing and read to your baby as often as you can. Not only does he enjoy the time you are sharing with him, his brain is busily laying down the pathways that provide the foundations for later speech and language development.

Ridiculous rhymes that babies love!

Movement is an important part of speech development, so tap on your baby’s body, wriggle fingers and toes, move body parts up and down, or dance around the room while you recite these poems, sing these songs and play these baby games. You will find hundreds more delightful baby songs, baby activities and games in our online baby classes here: Active Babies Smart Kids

I hear thunder
I hear thunder, I hear thunder
Hark don’t you, hark don’t you?
Pitter patter raindrops
Pitter patter raindrops
I’m wet through! So are you!

A leopard has lots of spots
What a lot of spot’s he’s got
A tiger has stripes, like long thin pipes
But a leopard has lots of spots, spots, spots, spots.

Giddy-up horsey
Giddy-up, giddy-up, giddy-up horsey
Giddy-up, giddy-up, go, go go!
Giddy-up, giddy-up, giddy-up, horsey
Giddy-up, giddy-up, whoa!

Jelly on a plate
Jelly on a plate, jelly on a plate
Wibble wobble, wibble wobble
Jelly on a plate
Biscuits in a tin, biscuits in a tin
Shake them up, shake them up
Biscuits in a tin.

Dr Jane Williams (PhD, BMgt, RN(Paeds)) is the Research and Education General Manager for GymbaROO and KindyROO. Dr Williams is one of Australia’s leading experts on baby and child development. More on Dr Williams here.

Bindy Cummings (B.Ed(Human Movement) Hons) has worked as a teacher, child development consultant, early childhood development lecturer, teacher trainer and INPP & iLS consultant. She is the co-creator of GymbaROO’s Active Babies Smart Kids online series, has authored many published articles on child development. She is working on the content and development GymbaROO’s portal and online training programs, and the creation of new online programs for parents and children. More on Bindy Cummings here.

This is a revised and updated version of an article ‘Talking your way through life’ written by Daya Bhagwanda, speech therapist, for GymbaROO’s magazine First Steps.

Active Babies Smart Kids – Online Baby Classes

GymbaROO-KindyROO’s online series of baby classes is taking the parenting world by storm! It is highly recommended by doctors, paediatricians, early childhood experts and the Maternal Child and Family Health Nurses Association. This series is being called: “The essential guide for parents”. Join the thousands of parents already playing with their babies from birth, in the best way for brain and body development and laying crucial foundations for future learning. What happens in the first year, not only matters, it matters a lot! Enjoy the introductory video below.

Click here: Active Babies Smart Kids online series of baby classes 

Try the first episode FREE: Tummy time + baby fun and development class 1


Thousands of parents, babies and children are presently involved in our programs and creating rising stars. GymbaROO-KindyROO kids are excelling academically, emotionally, in leadership roles and on the sporting field. Come join all the fun and learning! “GymbaROO – The best decision I ever made for my child.” Classes from 6 weeks old – 7 years GymbaROO KindyROO 

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