Skills Your Child Learns Before They Start Talking

Skills Your Child Learns Before They Start Talking

Language development is an important part of growing up, but how does it begin? A common misconception is that children do not understand language until they are able to speak. However, this is far from the truth. 

Your child starts to engage in the world around them from the word go. Behaviours and actions you may think are not connected to speech can indeed be part of the complex and multifaceted phase of learning to talk. There are many skills your child needs to acquire before they start to talk, some of which are more challenging than others. As a parent or guardian, you can encourage and support your child along the way.

When it comes to the answer to the frequently asked question of when do kids start talking, it is not a quantifiable one. Every child is different. Language development incorporates countless elements such as physical growth, health status, environmental influences, and personality, all of which are variable. 

Language development begins in the womb. Many aspects of speech are innate, and many need guidance and support. If you are concerned about your child’s language skills, Chatterbox can help.

Can My Child Understand Speech Before They Start Talking?

Like many abilities that humans develop, talking requires strong foundations. Babies and young children are constantly soaking up what is going on around them, such as the tones you use to say a sentence, the way you move your tongue and lips as you speak, and the manner in which you interact with people you are talking to. Most children can understand language enough to follow directions, for example, before they start talking because they have studied the people around them using language and practise non-verbal skills that develop their ability to talk.

Expecting a child to say certain words before they have cemented the skills needed to say them may cause them stress and loss of confidence, and it could be detrimental to their language development. Preverbal skills may not always be obvious, but these building blocks are essential to communication.

What Are Preverbal Skills?

Pre-verbal skills allow children to communicate before they speak and add to the abilities required to talk and carry out conversations, such as eye contact and turn-taking. There is not a set list of skills your child must have before they start talking, nor is there an order in which they should develop these skills. Children learn to talk through interaction, observation, mimicking, repetition, and play, which involves thousands of hours of practice and development. Acquiring preverbal skills starts very early on and is an ongoing process. 

If your child is displaying difficulty with pre-verbal skills, our friendly and experienced speech pathologists can help you and your child with strategies and exercises. Some skills that children generally learn or begin to grasp before they talk include the following:


 Children begin to make noises as one of the earliest stages in language development. They begin to become aware of their voice, their mouth, and the response from others that results when they vocalise.

 Eye Contact

 Making eye contact during conversation is an important part of interaction in most cultures. It also allows young children to learn how to interpret facial expressions when communicating.


 When children begin to respond to people and events around them, it can be an exciting time. This can involve elements such as showing an interest in someone and displaying signs of enjoyment during their interaction. 

Turn Taking

Learning that communication involves back and forth interaction and practising for this can occur in many situations before your child starts to talk, such as taking turns to pull a funny face, to clap, or to hum a tune.


Gestures are important to understand for conversations but are also a crucial way for children to communicate before they can use words to do so. This nonverbal interaction can include actions such as nodding, waving, and pointing. 

Joint Shifting And Sharing Of Attention

Being able to share focus on an event, person, or object with someone they are interacting with is an important factor for children. Having this preverbal skill will allow them to understand and demonstrate what is being discussed or referred to during conversations. 

Reacting To Surroundings

Awareness of and response to their environment can include actions such as turning to face someone who is speaking or laughing at a running dog. It can also involve becoming aware of people’s emotions and responses. 

 Attention Development

 Being able to keep their attention on one event or activity for more than five minutes helps children to learn and to develop the ability to carry out a meaningful conversation.

 Appropriate Play

 Playing with new and familiar toys and participating in activities exposes children to new concepts, routines, skills, interactions, and thoughts and helps them to learn in an enjoyable and safe way.

 Following Instructions

 Begin to ask your child simple questions or to follow easy instructions, even before they can talk. This helps them to grow their listening and comprehension abilities and their vocabulary. 

 Initiating Interactions

 Another element of learning to talk is when children begin to purposefully try to gain attention and start an interaction with others.

Your Child Is Constantly Learning To Talk And Chatterbox Can Help

Communication involves many linguistic, cognitive, and social elements. Skills that may not appear relevant to speech can have significant importance to one of these aspects. Many of these do not even involve the voice, and children begin to develop nonverbal skills a long time before they speak.

If you are concerned about your child’s language or nonverbal skill development, early intervention can be beneficial. Contact our paediatric speech pathologist to find out how we can help you and your child.