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Speech Development: Milestones to Expect at Age 1

Parents frequently wonder whether or not their child is progressing typically in terms of speech development and language skills. At Chicago Speech Spot, we are often asked the question, “When will my baby start talking?” The short answer: every child grows at his or her own rate!

This makes it increasingly difficult for parents to recognize when their child may have a delay in communication skills. Although every child’s development looks a little bit different, you can use the list below as a helpful guide to navigate your young one’s early language and speech development.

Speech and Language Milestones: Age 1

(1) First Words: As a general rule of thumb, children should have at least 1 word that they are using meaningfully by the time they are 1 year old (besides “mama” and “dada”). By meaningful, we mean a word that is used with a purpose and meaning that is understood by the child. Additionally, at this age, word approximations are acceptable. In other words, your child is not expected to be able to produce all speech sounds. If your child is using “ba” to refer to a ball and uses it consistently and meaningfully, it is a word in our book!

(2) Use of Gestures: Your child will begin to use a variety of gestures in order to aid in his/her communication. Because babies are not able to completely rely on their verbal language at this point, gestures are an important means for them to communicate wants and needs. For example, your baby may reach his/her arms up to be picked up or point to something that he/she wants. Using gestures functionally is an important prerequisite to functional verbal communication later down the road. 

(3) Receptive Language: By the time your child is 1 year old, he/she will begin to understand a lot of language that is heard in the environment. Children around this age will listen with increased interest to new words and can recognize many words for common items. Although we expect them to use only 1 word at this age, their receptive vocabulary is actually much higher and they generally recognize approximately 50 words. Additionally, your little one will begin to respond to simple requests and follow some simple and familiar directions when provided with a gestural cue (e.g., “sit here” with a gesture). Children will also be able to respond to their own name and to “no” by the time they are 1 year old.

(4) Social Language: Babies begin to display the beginning stages of social language from a very early age. By the time they are 1, they are vocalizing to gain attention, playing social games such as peek-a-boo and waving “hi” and “bye-bye.” Furthermore, babies will smile at themselves if you place them in front of a mirror. All of these skills are signs that your child is interested in engaging and are important prerequisites to interactions and social language for when they are older.

Please note that this list is not all-inclusive.

If you have any specific questions about your child’s language and speech development or for more information, please sign up for our free Speech and Language Screenings at Bubbles Academy or contact Chicago Speech Spot at [email protected] or (312) 600-7230!

Check out part 2 of this blog post to learn about speech and language milestones for your two year old! 

Milestones-1-yearMichelle Hersh (@SpeechSpot )is a licensed Speech-Language Pathologist and a co-founder of Chicago Speech Spot, a private pediatric speech therapy practice in Chicago. Chicago Speech Spot provides in-home and in-school speech-language therapy to children from birth to age 21. Michelle’s areas of specialty include (but are not limited to) articulation/phonological disorders, receptive/expressive language disorders, dyslexia, Childhood Apraxia of Speech and pragmatics/social language disorders. Michelle is trained in the PROMPT method for Childhood Apraxia Speech and has received her training in the evidence-based Orton-Gilingham reading program.


  1. When Will My Baby Start Talking? | Chicago Speech Spot – […] for you to express your concerns and have us observe and interact with your child.  Click here to sign…
  2. Storytime and Child Development: Receptive Language | The Neighborhood Librarian – […] Another milestone checklist with a little more description of the terms in child development. […]

About The Author

Natalie Monterastelli

Natalie Monterastelli

I am a parent, teaching artist, writer, and entrepreneur who believes in the power of the Arts to help us connect, learn, and grow. My goal is to ignite wonder and compassion through my business (Bubbles Academy), nonprofit...

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