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  • Writer's pictureBrooke O'Leary

Your Baby's First Words: What Counts?

As your little one begins to communicate with you more and more, you may be wondering what exactly counts as a word? As children start to talk, their words don’t always sound exactly similar to how adults say them. Check out what speech-language pathologists count as words and let us know how many words your child has! You may be surprised to learn how many more words your child has than you initially thought! 

Sign Language: 

If your child can sign “more,” “all done,” “milk,” or “eat,” these all count toward your child's total word count. Signs are a great way to support verbal language development! 

Animal Noises: 

“Moo”, “woof”, “meow” and “baa” all count as words! Many little ones have a lot of fun imitating and using animal sounds while they read books and play! 

Sound Effects: 

“Woah”, “boom”, “beep-beep” and “uh-oh” can be heard often during play and count as words. Even though some of them may seem like two words, we count them as one!

Word Approximations: 

A word approximation is when a child only says part of a word. This may look like saying “ca” for “cat.” You will likely hear a lot of these from your child in the early stages of talking.


A word is something that is produced:

  • Consistently: If your child always says “ba” for a bottle, it counts as a word. If your child only says a word once, it wouldn’t count as a word. A good rule of thumb is to start counting it when a child has said it 3 or more times. Modeling is a great way to increase consistency.

  • Intentionally: The word is used with intent and in context. Consider if they have said the same thing to mean something specific. For example, your child says, “ca” or “beep-beep” when playing with cars or if they see a car while on a walk. 

  • Independently: The word is said on their own without being prompted to directly repeat you. For example, you say “cow says….” and they answer “moo” or they say “moo” when they see a cow in a video or book.


Some strategies we love at O'Leary Speech Therapy to encourage first words:

  • Value all communication forms such as signs and gestures

  • Model 1-step ahead of what your child is doing! For example, if they push something away you can model “all done”

  • Utilize pausing and wait time to give your child a chance to respond- try counting to five! 

  • Follow your child’s lead. Look at what motivates your child, what catches their attention, what they like to play with, and use these opportunities to model words and language to match their actions and interests.

  • Sing nursery rhymes and songs, add actions to engage your child. The Wheels on the Bus is a great song to encourage motor imitation!

  • Read to your child, and point out pictures on the pages, even if the words are not included in the text

  • Focus on commenting rather than asking questions to reduce pressure for your child. Model comments throughout your routines and play to help add context for your child.

Most children will say their first word between 10 months and 14 months. If you have concerns about your child’s speech and language development, O’Leary Speech Therapy offers free consultations to help determine if your child will benefit from speech and language services. Contact us today!

Written by: Erin Griffin M.S., CCC-SLP

Certified Speech Language Pathologist

Erin received her Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology from Northeastern University in 2018, after graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Science and Disorders from James Madison University in 2016. She holds a Clinical Certificate of Competence in Speech-Language Pathology from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, as well as a license in Speech-Language Pathology from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Additionally, Erin holds a Massachusetts Educator License. 

Erin specializes in treating Speech Sound Disorders, Late Talkers, and Receptive and Expressive Language Disorders. Erin has experiences in public and private schools, home health, and pediatric out-patient settings. Erin enjoys working collaboratively with families in order to individualize and maximize the gains of the therapy she provides while catering to client's interests and motivations. Erin likes to incorporate play and literacy within her fun, engaging sessions.

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