Parents the world over love the sound of baby babble, from the first gurgling vocalizations, to the entertaining and sometimes maddening jargon of the 1-year-old that seems almost, almost like real words and sentences.
Baby sounds are cute and funny, but they also represent important developmental milestones in speech, motor, cognitive and social development. Babbling develops in stages, each stage indicating steps to speech.
The way babies use their sounds shows their growing understanding of the world and other people. Normal infant babbling helps us know that communicative development is on track.
Speech is one of the most complex motor acts that humans do. It involves the coordination of breathing, voicing, articulation and resonance - hundreds of muscles working together with millisecond timing.
There are five major stages of babbling development, and they occur with the maturation of different parts of the speech system.
In the first two months of life, newborns cry, cough, grunt and sneeze, but these sounds do not involve the vocal cords vibrating with a smooth, speech-like quality. Along with these natural sounds, newborns make what are called quasi-vowel sounds, which do have the smooth onset and sound quality of speech.
The voice box, or larynx, is beginning to practice the type of vibration necessary for true vowel sounds. However, the rest of the vocal tract is at rest. The voice does not yet sound like speech. This is called the Phonation Stage.
From two to three months of age, infants enter into the Gooing Stage. In this stage, primitive movements of the articulators - the lips and tongue - become more coordinated with phonation, and we begin to hear consonant-like sounds, although these are not yet fully formed.
During this stage, babies begin to coordinate their gooing sounds with eye contact, and begin to take turns making sounds with a delighted parent or care provider. Social skill development is under way!