Do babies stop babbling when learning a new skill? This phenomenon raised concerns across the globe, prompting thousands of research in the relationship between babbling and acquiring skills during infancy.
Why does this happen? Is it something you should be concerned about?
It’s common for babies to stop babbling when learning a new skill. They do this because they’re focused on learning the skill and would often resume babbling when distracted. Unless the child shows signs of speech or language delay, there’s no cause for concern.
In this article, we’ll go through everything you need to know about babbling and learning skills in infancy, including the stages of babbling and developmental thinking.
- Babbling and Language Development
- Learning New Skills in Infancy
- Babbling and Learning New Skills
- Counterarguments and Challenges
- When Should You Be Worried?
Basics of Baby Babbling and Language Development
Babbling, also known as baby talk, baby jargon, or nonsense speech, is a stage in child development wherein an infant begins to experiment with syllables or take on intonations of speech.
Speech development happens at different speeds, but babies usually start babbling at around four to six months and stop babbling at around 12 months—or whenever they start speaking their first words.
Why Is Babbling Important?
Babbling is a crucial part of language development in infants, one that marks the transition from imprecise vocalizations to precise vocalizations.
It significantly improves an infant’s articulatory control, allowing the baby to produce syllables with a stop (b, d, g, k, p, t) or with a nasal consonant (m, n).
During the babbling period, you’ll notice your baby uttering single syllables (ma, pa, duh), reduplicated syllables (mama, dada, baba), and long chains of syllables (dadada). This is your baby’s way of learning how to replicate the sounds of his/her native language.
Babbling can also be a clinical indicator of speech development in a child’s later years.
Delays in babbling are often associated with childhood apraxia of speech (CAS), a speech disorder that makes it difficult for a child to produce sounds correctly. It’s also an indication of autism spectrum disorder and language delays.
Babbling may seem like meaningless jargon to anyone listening, but the reality is that infants use babbling as a way to shape their environments and make learning easier. It’s a social catalyst that helps them gather information from people that surround them.
What Are the Stages of Babbling?
To help you properly monitor your child’s speech development, you need to be aware of the stages of babbling. Here’s a typical timeline of child babbling:
Phonotation Stage: Months 0 to 2
In the Phonotation Stage, babies create natural or vegetative sounds like crying, grunting, sneezing, hiccuping, cooing, and coughing. They also create sounds that require their voice box to vibrate, like gurgling.
Cooing Stage: Months 2 to 3
At two to three months old, babies subconsciously learn how to move their lips and tongue.
Babies would make simple sounds (goo, guh, mah) and direct them at you or the object(s) they’re interacting with.
This stage marks the beginning of consonant-like and vowel-like sounds.
Expansion Stage: Months 4 to 6
During the Expansion Stage, babies will begin to produce fully resonant single-syllable speech sounds, like da, ba, and ma.
They’ll start to experiment with pitch, volume, tone, and intensity, and start to yell, squeal, laugh, growl, and make raspberry noises.
The babbling is marginal but pronounced.
Canonical Babbling Stage: Months 6 to 10
As babies reach the six to 10-month mark, they’ll produce sounds that one can consider “true” syllables.
These syllables would be mixed with consonant and vowel sounds, which include non-reduplicated canonical babbling (banaba) and reduplicated canonical babbling (mamama).
Towards the end of this stage, improved control and coordination of the mouth and voice box allow babies to create clear sounds with defined resonance and articulation. They’ll use their “words” to make conversation and catch your attention.
Variegated Babbling Stage: Months 8 to 9
At this stage, babies attempt to imitate noises produced by people and objects.
They’ll play with block towers, knock them down, and say “boom!” They’ll string different syllables together and produce complicated speech that appears like sentences. They’ll ask questions without using actual words and mimic adult speech patterns.
It’s at this stage that you might hear your baby saying “no.”
Jargon Stage: Months 10 to 11
In the Jargon Stage, babies use complex babbling with a few simple words: mama, da, ball, baba?
Their speech patterns are adorably animated as they do their best to imitate facial expressions, voice inflections, gestures, and conversational rhythm.
The babbling still sounds more like gibberish, but one that takes on the tones of adult speech.
First Words: Months 12+
From month 12 and onwards, real words start to take over. They’ll have said their first word and maybe one or two more.
The words will not be perfect; your baby may use shortcuts like “ba” for bottle, “ap” for apple, and “up,” for when your baby wants to be taken out of the playpen or seat.
It’s also during this period that babies understand and follow instructions as long as they’re simple in clear.
Learning New Skills in Infancy: Developmental Thinking From Birth to 12 Months
Infants constantly learn and develop new skills during their early years.
Babies learn primarily through their senses. They explore by listening to voices and music, touching and mouthing objects, and looking at the strange (but wonderful) colors and images around them.
Through this exploration, babies learn concepts such as cause and effect and object permanence. Here’s a brief breakdown of a baby’s developmental thinking from months one to 12:
Months 1 to 2
During your baby’s first two months, he learns the world through reflexes. The rooting reflex, for example, helps your baby solve the problem of getting food.
If you touch his cheek with a soft toy, he’ll automatically turn his head towards it in case it’s a bottle or a breast.
Months 3 to 5
When your baby is around three months, he’ll gain a basic understanding of action and reaction. He swats at a plush bunny, sees it topple over, and hears it rattle. He realizes that his action is what caused that reaction—the rattling inside the bunny.
Two months later, he’ll learn that when he shakes the bunny, it’ll produce a rattling sound. This discovery thrills him and urges him to repeat the action again and again to produce the same result.
Months 6 to 8
Cause and effect occur at around six to eight months, allowing your baby to solve simple problems. If he sees the bunny blocking his access to another toy, he’ll push the bunny aside.
He’ll discover how to turn a crank to trigger the jack-in-the-box, stack cubes to make a taller cube, or crawl to a favorite toy mommy placed out of reach.
When your baby turns nine months, he’ll start to develop cognitive skills—particularly object permanence. Before, if you covered the bunny with a blanket, he’d cry because he thought it was gone.
Now, he knows that the bunny is still there when the blanket is taken away.
Months 12 and Beyond
During the baby’s first year, he’ll learn how to focus his vision, explore, reach out, and learn about the things around them.
He’ll solve problems by trying, failing, and trying again until he achieves his goal.
He’ll copy something or someone immediately after seeing it done, or imitate it at a later time.
For example, if he sees you retrieving an object from a stool on Monday, he’ll drag the same stool to retrieve his toy from an unreachable area on Tuesday.
Throughout all this, your baby develops his motor skills. Motor development aid in hand-eye coordination, self-confidence, and balance, giving a baby a sense of his own abilities.
Babbling and Learning New Skills
According to a study led by Professor Michael H. Goldstein of Cornell University, babies enter a cognitive stage of focused attention and a readiness to learn when they babble.
The study concludes that babbling is a precursor to speech, and signals both cognitive and emotional development.
But if that were the case, why do babies stop babbling when learning a new skill? The answer isn’t as complicated as you might think.
Babies often stop babbling when they’re focused on learning a new skill. They’re actively engaging in cognitively challenging tasks, so they stop babbling for a bit to master (or attempt to master) the task at hand.
They’re trying their best to learn new skills or discover new actions, showing more interest in whatever’s going on around them. When they get bored or distracted, the babbling usually starts up again.
Remember: babies aren’t adept at multitasking. They often stop doing one thing while learning another thing. So when your baby stops babbling, there’s little cause for concern as long as he’s responding properly to external stimuli and sound.
Counterarguments and Challenges
While it’s common for babies to stop babbling when they’re focused on learning a new skill, some studies suggest that this isn’t always the case.
Some infants continue to babble even when they’re in the midst of acquiring new skills, subconsciously making mouth sounds as they practice and learn.
To maximize these opportunities, parents should engage with their babies when their child babbles. Simple descriptions—the ball is red, the grass is green, the water is cold—can significantly speed up an infant’s language development.
It’s important to note that babies demonstrate progress in speech development in differing time frames.
Parents may find themselves concerned or frustrated if they perceive a delay in their child’s development, particularly when compared to other children their age.
But delayed speech doesn’t always mean something is wrong. Just as some are late walkers, some are late talkers.
When Should You Be Worried?
If you’re concerned about the speed of your child’s speech and language development, there are several factors to watch out for. Consult a physician if your child:
- Doesn’t turn their head to soft sounds by six months
- Doesn’t react to their name in some way by six months
- Isn’t using gestures, such as waving bye-bye or pointing, by 12 months
- Uses gestures rather than vocalizations to communicate by 18 months
- Struggles to imitate simple sounds by 18 months
- Struggles to understand or follow simple verbal requests
- Imitates speech or actions but doesn’t produce words or phrases themselves
- Have an unusual tone in their voice, such as sounding nasally
- Is more difficult to understand than expected at their age
At three years old, you should be able to understand most of what your child is saying. By four, you should understand 100% of what they’re saying.
If your child is displaying one or more of the examples mentioned above, consult a pediatrician to evaluate your child’s hearing, speech, and mental development.
A speech delay can indicate an issue with the tongue, mouth, or palate, such as that found in ankyloglossia (tongue tie), a condition wherein the tongue is connected to the floor of the mouth.
This can make it difficult for infants to produce certain consonants, such as D, L, R, TH, and Z.
A speech delay could also be a sign of autism spectrum disorder, hearing loss, or intellectual disabilities.
Other cases include neurological problems such as muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, and traumatic brain injury, or lack of stimulation due to abuse or neglect.
Do Deaf Babies Babble?
Deaf babies babble, too, though perhaps not as frequently as hearing babies.
They’ll start babbling around the same time and make similar babbling sounds. Because of this, it can sometimes be difficult to diagnose deaf or partially deaf babies without a hearing screening.
Deaf babies also babble with their hands. They use their hands in the same rhythmic, repeated motion as hearing infants that babble with their voices. This type of babbling is called manual babbling.
Babies exposed to sign language use their hands to manually babble at around the age of 10 months.
It’s common for babies to stop babbling when learning a new skill. Just like how some people can’t listen to music and work at the same time, some babies can’t babble while acquiring a skill. Unless the infant shows signs of speech disorders or speech delay, this shouldn’t cause any concern.