Believe it or not, your child's language is developing from the moment he or she is born. Your child's first form of verbal communication will, of course, be crying, but within a matter of weeks he or she will begin to verbalise in soft cooing sounds. This progresses to a tuneful babble by around 7-8 months, and towards his or her first birthday your child might begin saying his or her first real words. For most children, their first proper word is one which has been continuously repeated to them since birth - either Mama or Dadda.
Toddler speech development varies hugely - by two years old, most children will have a vocabulary of around 50 words and be starting to join words together into primitive sentences, however some children will have much larger vocabularies and/or speak in more complete sentences, whilst others might have fewer words and speak less.
You can encourage your child's speech and language development by talking to him or her often. Speak slowly, using simple, clear words. Provide your child with a running commentary on the events of the day: this not only helps his or her language development, but it helps them to understand the world around them, and anticipate what might be coming next. When he or she does say a new word, repeat it back to them, and praise them for their efforts. Studies have also shown that singing and music helps language development, whether it be a CD, a television program/DVD or a children's music group such as Mainly Music.
Plunket recommend that you seek referral to a speech therapist if your child is not saying any words by the time he or she is 18-months old. Poor hearing can also affect language development so if your child has a history of ear infections, if there is a family history of childhood deafness or if you have other reason to suspect your child might not be hearing well, see your GP about a referral to have your child's hearing tested.