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A Child’s First Word: The Top 5 (And In Mandarin Too!)

Hearing your baby’s first word is often one of the highlights of the parenting journey, alongside watching them stand for the first time or take their first step. That moment is often eagerly anticipated by parents as is the revelation of what that word will be. Today, we’ll provide some useful insights into the issue of children’s speech development, what parents can do to encourage babies to express themselves and that list of the most common first words and their Mandarin translations.

When do babies first start to speak?

That’s the million-dollar question! Each child is different so there are no hard and fast rules. Generally, by six months babies start to babble, making various sounds, some of which may sound like familiar words. For instance ‘ma ma’, ‘da da’ and ‘na na’ might be interpreted as a baby’s first word when it is in fact just a babble. From around 8 months old, kids start to imitate sounds they hear. But most babies actually only start speaking from 11 months onwards. And from 18 months of age, they may be speaking broken sentences. But at the end of the day, these are all ballpark figures. One in every four babies is often a late bloomer.

Can Parents Encourage Their Babies To Talk?

While there is absolutely no need to rush the process, remember babies don’t automatically learn to speak. Children need to be in an environment that is conducive to language learning so they can pick up words and start speaking at the appropriate time. There are a few basic things that parents can do to help the process along.

Start by listening to your baby – even their squeals are an attempt to talk so acknowledge these sounds to show them they are on the right track.
Speak to your baby slowly and clearly. This is a key step of language development.

Use picture books to sound out words and allow the baby to see a basic visual representation of a would.

Singing is also a great idea as babies love music so will likely to imitate the sounds of the words in the song.

What Words Should Parents Listen Out For or Expect To Here?

Da da

爸爸 / bàba

The ‘d’ sound is believed to be easier for babies to utter than the ‘m’ sound. So ‘da da’ is a very common first world. Although to be fair, babies could just be making the sound rather than referring to their father.

Ma ma

妈妈 / māma

For some kids the ‘m’ sound is actually easier to say. So ‘ma ma’ will actually come before ‘da da’. In any case, it’s usually one of the first words in their vocabulary.


你好 / nǐ hǎo

Because everyone will use this to greet the child it is only natural that they’d pick this up pretty naturally.

Bye/Ta Ta

再见 / Zaijian

Again, here is another word children are accustomed to hearing quite often and therefore add to their vocabulary bank pretty early on.


不 / bù

Now here is a word that can become problematic when heard of a repeat from a child. As people often use ‘No!’ to stop a child from doing something, it’s an easy one to pick up.

Learning to speak will give your child the opportunity to express themselves and to communicate with those around them. Good command of the language will also allow you to watch as your child develops his or her unique personality. Don’t put any pressure on your child or yourself by listening out for your baby’s first word as it’ll often only be said when least expected.

Encourage your child’s communication skills in a warm and engaging environment. Learn more about our nurseries in London now: