There are two parts to spoken language that emerge in the first few years. First your baby will develop receptive language – an understanding of words. Later the area of the brain responsible for expressive language (Broca’s area) will develop and your little one will start to speak.


Speech therapist Tersia De Villiers has these guidelines on when your baby’s understanding of language will emerge so that you can be prepared-ish for this stage of language development:


  1. By the age of 6-12 months, babies become very aware of sound and will also search for the source of it.  Your little one will start to respond to his/her name and will also recognise words such as 'dada', 'mama', 'bye-bye'.
  2. By 9-12 months the understanding of common objects and names of family members expands.  Your baby will also understand the word 'no' and will respond to simple requests.  
  3. By 12-15 months your toddler will be able to follow simple instructions, such as 'give to daddy', 'kiss mommy'.
  4. By 15-18 months your little one is able to recognize and point to objects and pictures in books on request.
  5. By 18-24 months the understanding of words develop rapidly.  Toddlers will know between 200-500 words.


The understanding of language is a critical precursor to speech, with it the ultimate tool of the mind, connecting you with your baby’s inner thoughts.