Although many babies will not produce a single recognizable word before their first birthday, everyday is crucial to their language development. Babies learn language before they can speak. First they must listen to other people's words and learn to understand what they mean. Only then will they be able to produce meaningful words of their own.

The importance of a baby's listening and understanding is often underestimated because the importance of babies' own word production is overestimated. If you find yourself spending a lot of time and energy trying to persuade your baby to produce word sounds by imitation, do remind yourself that you're trying to raise a person, not a parrot. An imitated sound isn't an useful word unless it has agreed meaning. 

If you persuade your baby to imitate the sound "da-da" (or to utter it when you do, instead of as a random part of his/her babbling) and then you throw your arms around his father and lean up and down saying, "Daddy!, He said Daddy. Did you hear him?" That imitated sound may actually acquire agreed meaning and become a useful word. But he/she will not learn to talk by means of that kind of concentrated teaching of one word at a time, but by gradually decoding the mass of speech sounds with which he/she is surrounded.

Concentrate on giving your baby lots of talk to listen to, plenty of opportunities for grasping the meaning of the words he/she hears, an immediate and pleasant response to the sounds he/she makes and lots of verbal games and rhymes and jokes.

Just as many people assume that babies learn words by imitation, so they often assume that babies learn to speak in order to say what they want or feel. Neither everyday observation nor research supports these simple ideas. As to expressing needs, babies manage to communicate with their caretakers for a very long time without using words, so why should they suddenly feel a need for them? 

Two main bodies of research have been influential in explaining how-and why- children acquire language. The older, pioneered by Chomsky and Lenneberg, postulated a built-in human language capacity or "Language Acquisition Device" which underlies children's ability to learn the particular language of their community, and to do so at incredible speed and under a vast range of conditions. The more recent, better known through the work of psychologists such as Jerome Bruner, sees language as social rather than biological, and its development dependent on "social scaffolding" provided by parents and other adults. Neither theoretical position alone accounts for the full range of observations. It seems clear that both play a part and that takes some pressure off parents. Your baby will learn to talk even without a great deal of social scaffolding, but the scaffolding does make a difference.

Every aspect of your baby's development will proceed more smoothly and happily if you don't feel pressured or pressuring about it, but that's especially true of his/her language development. Allow your baby's speech to come naturally by actively engaging and exposing him/her in natural conversations.