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First Words

Kathryn Deane of Berlin, CT, wanted "dada" to be her daughter's first word so Julia would cry for him in the morning, not her. But when Julia began saying it at 7 months, "Steve said it didn't count because she called everyone 'dada,' including the dog!" We eagerly await hearing that first word, yet it's not always easy to recognize. By 6 months, most babies start to combine consonants and vowels ("ga," "da," "ma") and to repeat them ("bababa"). So you'll likely hear "mama" or "dada" well before your baby means to say it, says speech-language pathologist Robert Owens, Ph.D., author of Help Your Baby Talk.

Babies typically don't say their first "real" word until between 11 and 15 months, though it can happen as early as 8 months. How can you tell? Consistency and context are key. If your baby says "goggy" only when she sees or hears a dog, for instance, it's safe to assume she means "doggy."

Chatting with your child will help boost her vocabulary. Just remember to:

Pause to give her a chance to \"respond,\" even if it's just with a gurgle or coo.

Look her in the eye and vary your tone to catch and keep her interest.

Use short words and sentences  -- they're easier to understand.

Repeat words: "Kitty is soft. Kitty is cute. Kitty likes to play."

Babies tend to focus on one big developmental task at a time, so they may walk before talking, or stop forming words for a bit af-ter taking their first steps. As long as your baby is repeating syllables by 12 months, she's on track. (If she isn't, talk to your pediatrician.)