I have always been fascinated by tiny babies. They seem so soft and sweet, all curled up in their mothers’ arms. I even love the precious little gurgling sounds they make when they are trying to express themselves. Imagine my surprise when I ran into an old college friend who had a four-month-old baby tucked against her hip and the little girl promptly said, “hi.” I wanted to think it was just a funny gurgle, but it was as clear as day. I said hello to my friend, and her baby greeted me right back.

I stared at the little one’s squishy little face peering at me from under her hat and then at my friend. “Did she just say ‘hi’?” I asked. My friend just nodded and dove into the classic conversation that happens between friends who haven’t seen each other in several years. As I was telling her about my husband, my career, my house and my favorite memories from the old dorm, I was still focused on the talking baby. How could that tiny baby possibly have developed speech already?

Language development is something nearly all parents focus on strongly during their babies’ development. Anticipating first words and first ability to truly communicate desires is something shared universally; the retrospective comparison of the development of these abilities is often used by mothers to categorize intelligence of their young children. Studies have indicated, however, that with some outstanding exceptions, most children develop language through specific patterns within a “normal” age range. Early or late development within this range is sometimes correlated with larger vocabularies and enhanced expression in toddlers and preschool-aged children, but not with higher IQs or ability to learn other concepts.

There are some outliers in such studies. Some children seem to develop an incredible mastery over the language, beginning with segmentation of native sounds and adaption of babbling to correspond with these sounds and transitioning into the use of actual expressive language, at a very young age. While many children are still not speaking or using only one or two words after their first birthdays, some begin using language recognizably and effectively at four months of age.

Very early speech generally corresponds with accelerated speech acquisition throughout childhood, with these children showing much larger vocabularies and ability to use complex sentence structures and intuitive word choice earlier than their peer group. Language acquisition is usually linked to the frequency with which they hear their parents and other adults using meaningful communication such as having conversations, reading and specifically introducing words.

Source: Newman, Rochelle, et al. Infants’ Early Ability to Segment the Conversational Speech Signal Predicts Later Language Development: A Retrospective Analysis, Developmental Psychology, Volume 42, Issue 4, pp 643-655, 2006.