0-12m Understanding of Language

What is it?

Children must learn to understand the language that they hear before they can use this language to communicate with others. A child’s understanding will usually be ahead of their ability to use spoken language.

As children grow and develop the range of words that they understand will increase and they will be able to follow longer and more grammatically complex sentences.

What to expect?

By 12 months, children will usually:

  • Recognise and show excitement when they hear familiar voices.
  • Understand familiar routine activities.
  • Look at you when you talk to them.
  • Understand simple words such as ‘bye-bye’, particularly when you use an action/gesture as you say the word.
  • Understand the names of familiar people and objects, such as ‘mummy’, ‘daddy’ and ‘juice’.

Information & advice

You can help by:

  • Talking to your baby from the moment they are born. This encourages them to listen to language even though they don’t understand the words.
  • Making sure your baby is looking at you when you talk to them.
  • Naming familiar objects during every day routines so that your child learns what they are called.
  • Keeping your language simple and clear. Don’t use sentences that are too long or complex.
  • Using gesture to add meaning to words, e.g. use a drinking gesture when you say “Get your cup” instead of pointing to it.

Watch our video on understanding words, sentences and beyond.


  • Get down to your baby’s level so they can see your face as you talk to them.
  • Use a tuneful voice to engage your baby’s interest in what you are saying.
  • Talk to your baby about the different activities that they do during the day, such as eating or having a bath.
  • Use actions/gestures alongside the words that you say to them. For example, doing an action for ‘driving’ when talking about a ‘car’ or waving when saying “bye-bye”.
  • Sing action songs and rhymes with your child, such as ‘Wind the bobbin up’ and ‘The wheels on the bus’.
  • Set aside some ‘Special Time’ with your baby every day to look at/talk about books.
  • Playing together and using lots of repetition will help you baby to learn language. For example, games such as ‘Ready, steady, go’ or ‘Peekaboo’ (“Where’s Amy gone? There she is”).