Language Comprehension: From Birth to 1 Year

The understanding of spoken language is an extremely important step in the development of communication. It’s so special to see your child start to respond to and understand words and start following instructions. Language comprehension actually starts to develop long before your baby starts to follow directions. From birth to the age of 12 months, your child forms the foundations of language comprehension.

From 0 – 3 months, your baby will start to develop language comprehension in the following ways:

  • Responding to sounds
  • Change in activity levels in response to sounds
  • Quietens in response to a familiar voice
  • Smiles in response to mother’s voice
  • Watches speakers mouth

At around 3 months until 6 months, new behaviours will start to emerge showing even further development of language comprehension:

  • Showing fear in response to an angry voice
  • Anticipation at the sight of food
  • Recognition of and response to name
  • Will start to appear to recognise words, such as ‘up’ and ‘bye’
  • Will start to smile in response to pleasant speech

From around 6 – 9 months of age, your baby should start to show more concrete comprehension of some words:

  • Moving towards or searching for a family member when named
  • Showing understanding of ‘no’
  • Shows anticipation when playing visual games like ‘Peek-a-boo’
  • Becomes anxious around strangers
  • Starts to show an understanding of relationship between sound and an object

When your child is 9 months old, language comprehension should be starting to develop rapidly! Between the ages of 9 & 12 months old, your child should start:

  • Responds actively to a verbal request
  • Responds to yes/no questions by shaking head
  • Understands familiar words and phrases like ‘hot!’ and ‘so big!’
  • Frowns when reprimanded
  • Follow very simple instructions if they are accompanied by a gesture.


Remember that each child is unique and that your child’s development may be slightly different. The reason we look at norms like these is not to scare parents, but to make sure that, if there is a delay, this can be adressed as early as possible.

Isn’t it exciting to see how each small step is so valuable for your baby! As a parent, you can get excited about every little change, because all the little changes lead to big results!

Here are a few things that you can do to help language development along with your baby! Before words: 4 Prespeech Skills you can Boost Before your Child Turns 1!

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The information in this post comes from the book Communication Intervention: Birth to Three (Louis Rossetti).

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