Baby Talk + First Words in French and English

I spoke French with my oldest child from her birth, but of course it wasn't until she was well over a year old that we began to truly interact through language. At that point, I noticed that many basic French nouns and verbs seemed longer than their English equivalents. Here are a few examples of basic nouns and verbs for use with children in both languages:



What I was noticing was that many single-syllable English words are two-syllable words in French. Because of this, I wondered if French infants began speaking words a bit later than their anglophone counterparts. But research says otherwise.  In her book Raising A Bilingual Child, Barbara Zurer Pearson says, "Early language milestones are remarkably similar everywhere around the world, regardless of which language children are learning or how many languages they are learning." First words generally appear around twelve months of age, though of course each infant has his or her own individual timeframe for word acquisition.

As I began to use French with my child, I didn't know much French baby talk--the words that are commonly used by parents to refer to common childhood things and actions. Here's a list I've since compiled of the most common words in French and English baby talk:


Looking at that list, you probably noticed that baby talk in any language generally follows a pattern of shorted words and repeated sounds. 


   Photo courtesy of  Daniel Chin Photography

 Photo courtesy of Daniel Chin Photography

When my daughter began to say words, she used words from both French and English. (She hears French from me and English from my husband.) She could also sign some words in American Sign Language and perform the Thai greeting gesture, the wai, to the delight of her NyaNya (Thai for Grandma). 

Here are some of the early words she used most frequently:

Dada, Daddy

Cat, Kitty




Av (Avion

Aïe (ouch)




My son seemed to speak fewer words than his sister had at the same age, but at this age he is speaking more words each day. apparently it's common that boys verbalize words a little later than girls. Here are his first few common words:

Papa Daddy











My daughter seemed to speak more French words from the start, but her younger brother seems to be speaking more English words. I think it's because he is learning English directly from his older sister (who considers it too bothersome or difficult to speak French to him). Nevertheless, he seems to be adding more French and English words each day now.

What did you notice about your child's first words and early speech? What were your concerns about speech development and what have you learned since then?