I have heard some great "first word" stories from the parents of my clients. The hope is always that their first word will be "mama" or "dada", but as many parents know that is not always the case. Whatever their first word may be how do you know if it a true word or "real word" and not just babbling?
What is a word?
Often parents say their child's first word was "mama" or "dada" and that they started using it at around 6 months. However is that use of "mama" and "dada" a true word? at 6 months of age? probably not. Maybe at 9 or 10 moths of age. For a word to be a True First Word it needs to fit the following criteria.
1. The word must sound similar to the adult version of the word. At this age, of coarse we don't expect perfection as we only expect use of age appropriate sounds, but approximations count. If a child says "ba" for "ball" "po" for "apple" "do
" for "dog" these are all acceptable approximations of the target word. Children are not born with the ability to produce all their speech sounds, they are acquired over time, so the words can have errors yet still sound like the adult version of the word.
2. To be a real word the word must also be used consistently in the presence of the object/person with both intent and meaning. For example, a six month old saying mamama while she is playing with her toys while mommy is at work is likely not a true word. A 10-12 month old who says “mamama” when mommy walks in the door and says it while looking at mommy (showing meaning and intent) and does it consistently (many different times) is most likely a real word.
So at what age do children typically say their first word?
Kids usually say their first words as early as 9 months and should definitely have their first word by 12 months. These words are usually nouns (person, place or thing) but don't have to be. They can also be action words, modifiers (colors, descriptions), or social words like hi, no, or bye bye.
Monitor your child's milestones and consult your pediatrician if you have any concerns!