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What first words I should teach my baby? Here are the essential first words for your child.

Updated: Dec 8, 2022

Many parents with babies often wonder... what words should I teach my child? What are the best words my child should learn to say first? Sometimes parents gravitate towards letters, numbers and colours. Parents might think that if they get an early start on these "academic concepts" their child will set up for "more success". But we're here to encourage parents to focus on functional words instead.

What first words should I teach my baby?

The first words you’re trying to teach should ALWAYS be functional. A word that is functional can be used by your child to influence their world. Saying that word changes something which means that word has a FUNCTION. This helps show your child the purpose and reward behind talking, so they’re motivated to do more of it! It helps your child get their wants and needs met, communicate their thoughts & interact more successfully with other children or adults. Children who don't have the functional words they need will probably rely on crying, screaming, and pulling to show what they want. This creates a difficult situation for everyone!

Functional words are better than formal words. ⠀⠀

Important first words your child needs to know

These are good first words to teach your child, because these words help them navigate and take some control of their little worlds! Functional words are things like:⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

- Protests (e.g., no, stop, go away)⠀

- Early actions (e.g., more, all done, go, help, open, hug, push)⠀

- Preferred foods or items (e.g., cheese, milk)⠀⠀⠀⠀

- Names of people they can call (e.g., mama, dada, papa)⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

- Routines or games they can request (e.g., up, down, book, ball) ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

- Body parts⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

Less important words (for babies!)

Words like manners, numbers, and letters are abstract concepts that children can only truly grasp AFTER they have more concrete understanding. These more "academic" words do not help your child interact successfully in their day to day life if they do not yet have an adequate vocabulary! Start with the functional words first. If a child only has their letters, colours, and numbers... they will also probably have to use these other less effective methods communication (think of a child saying "eh eh eh" and pointing vs saying "bottle"). They would not be able to self advocate and protest effectively (e.g., saying "stop", "no") or tell their caregivers what they need or want. So make sure you’re building a strong functional foundation and working your way up!⠀⠀⠀⠀

Another way to help your baby communicate more

Another great tip is to pair these words with simple baby signs ( Baby signs can act as a bridge for communication. Using simple signs gives your child another way and a chance to communicate if they are not yet able to verbalize. If your child is getting frustrated when they cannot express themselves, try introducing baby signs along with focusing on these functional words!


Chatty Therapy has wonderful speech-language pathologists who can give you more specific ideas on how to work with your child and tailor it to your daily routine. Or we can come into your home to help your child learn the concepts they need. Speech-language pathologists specialize in helping children understand others and express themselves better. If you are worried about your child’s speech, language or feeding abilities, learn more about our services or book a free 15-minute consultation. It may be helpful for us to do an assessment to identify specific areas that your child could use more support with.


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