small_talkV2 Know-how

The authors of Small Talk reveal how to make your child chatty

Speech therapist Nicola Lathey and journalist Tracey Blake are the authors of Small Talk, the new must-read for all parents wanting to improve their child’s language and communication development.

Authors of Small Talk

Tracey left and Nicola right with little ones

How did the book come about? A bit of background please…

Tracey: “Nicky and I have known each other 15 years. Our husbands used to go to school together so we’ve been friends forever.

When my little girl Minnie was about ten weeks old Nicola said to me ‘Minnie’s terribly chatty isn’t she? We’ve just had a wonderful conversation.’ I thought she was a bit bonkers – obviously ten week old babies can’t speak. But then she showed me how she was keeping eye contact with her and waiting for her to make a noise. Nicola would then respond, babbling away and wait for Minnie’s response.

It’s called The Art of Turntaking and it’s an early form of conversation. I was intrigued to learn more so I went along to Waterstones to find a book on early communication. I was really surprised that there wasn’t one and suggested to Nicky we write one. Our worlds as speech therapist and journalist came together!”


It’s estimated that about 33% of children don’t have sufficient language and communication skills for school. Did this influence your decision to write the book?

Tracey: “Absolutely. It’s an astonishing statistic. And there’s probably a number of reasons behind it not least the rise of technology; the downfall of things like family meals; parents being busier than ever and perhaps not spending so much time with their kids…”.

Nicola: “At a government level they’re on to the problem and they’re aware that it’s growing. The NHS waiting list for speech therapists is now 4.5 months. We really think this book has come at the right time.”


When should mums start talking to their baby bumps?

Nicola: “In the book there’s a section on talking to your bump which includes the turntaking technique. You wait for your baby’s kick then push the spot where baby kicks back. Scientists have found that the sound of a mother’s voice is soothing for babies from 27 weeks.”


And when can babies start interacting with mum?

Nicola: “At around four weeks babies can start ‘chatting’ and that’s the perfect time to talk to your baby in a singsongy voice – it’s called Motherese – where that lovely intonation really hooks your child. Their first sounds are cries which over time develop into vowel sounds, so around 6-10 weeks ‘aaagh’ becomes ‘ah’. Then baby gets more experimental with babbling, squeals and raspberry noises then on to actual consonant sounds that they hook up with vowels which in turn leads to ‘bab bab bab dad dad dad’.


Any key techniques for getting little ones chatting?

Nicola: “The main strategy in the book is called Say What You See – a technique that most mothers use instinctively. The idea is that language develops through play – just watch what your child is playing with then put their thoughts into words. So for example you give your child bricks to build with but actually your child is enjoying banging the bricks together. By saying ‘bang bang bang’ your voice becomes like a scratched record in their head so they’ll want to repeat that word.

Parents tend to ask children: ‘What’s that? Where’s it going?’ but much better is that we present them with the answers rather than the questions. That way we’re expanding their vocabulary and grammar by modeling language for them rather than questioning them on things that they haven’t learnt yet.

The See What You Say strategy works really well with as your child gets older too. Another key strategy is Repeat, Repeat, Repeat. If it works, do it again!

Here are some examples of practical games or exercises for different ages:



Peekaboo is a lovely game. Dangle a muslin cloth over baby’s face saying ‘peeekaaaaa’ then when you see an excited little wiggle or response, pull off the cloth add say ‘boo!’ It’s great for interaction and really good fun.



Ready steady go is an anticipation game that works well with a range of different activities. Say ‘ready, steady…’ then wait for your child’s vocalisation before rolling a ball, knocking down a tower or any other activity. It won’t be a lovely clear ‘go’ from the start – it’ll develop as you reward their vocalisation. Within three or four goes Tracey’s son Monty started saying ‘do’. Here’s another one. Your child sits on the sofa with daddy, mummy goes out of the room, then daddy and child call mummy back in by saying ‘mamamamama’. In comes mummy, does a little jig, then leaves. And again ‘mamamamama’ and in comes mummy again. You may wish you hadn’t started it! But it’s a great way of rewarding vocalisation with fun.



Go around your house and take photos of things that are really important to child. Make your own Powerpoint display or slideshow on your laptop and talk about objects or family members. Monty was obsessed with cat, dada, mummy and bottle of milk. Once they have about 50 nouns they then start adding verbs and positioning words like ‘daddy running’ and ‘Monty on the cat’.

Play a simple game of “that’s not my…” and see if your child can fill in the word. Aim for ten minutes of quality small talk time together with no distractions, no phones or laptops.


What if my child doesn’t want to talk?

Nicola: “Take all the pressure off. That’s where parents go wrong. They start asking more questions: ‘what’s this, where’s that, how many’. It’s where the Say What You See strategy works so brilliantly. It gives children confidence and encourages them to speak more.

If there is an actual problem it’s good get their hearing tested. Glue ear is really very common in early childhood so it’s important to get it ruled out if your child isn’t responding as you’d like. Beyond that I’d suggest referral to a speech therapist.”


Any plans to write a follow up book?

“We’d love to! If this ones a bestseller who knows?!”


Simple ways to boost your child’s speech, language and communication development from birth By Nicola Lathey and Tracey Blake GBP £12.99 Available on Amazon.


For all your baby essentials from car seats to pushchairs to highchairs visit baby specialist Kiddicare.


  1. Andy W

    My daughter’s first word was ‘Cat’; she was obsessed with the cat, crawled around everywhere after him. He was a big old softie too and didn’t might. I reckon he was chuffed that her first word was ‘cat’.

  2. Cheryl birchall

    my sons first word was mamam

  3. Tracy Nixon


  4. anthony harrington


  5. Amanda Hart

    My sons first word was dada…I think this is quite normal for 1st words


    “da da”

  7. kayleigh bates


  8. andrea miles

    my eldest’s was tree & my middle on can I have drink? (yes I know! he didn’t say a word until he could say that & he was nearly 3 )

  9. Portia Mattinson

    His first word was ‘babba’. It’s the name his brother called him.

  10. Leah Wheatley

    Da da!

  11. Donna Kent

    Get out (of the lounge to our dog)

  12. Tracy Newton


  13. Anita Davison

    mamma :)

  14. C Parkin


  15. donna perry

    both my children first word was dada

  16. Hazel Christopher

    My little boys first word was “pup” he had a cuddly puppy dog that he adored so much. He’s a little behind with his speech as he was premature but he’s getting speech therapy now and catching up a little.

  17. Danuta Myszor


  18. Bernadette Blundell

    my boys all said bye first with my twin girls they sais hiya 1st there 11 months old and been saying that a while

  19. Christy Beckett

    I have twin boys Connor and Michael, Connor said “again” and Michaels first word was “up” x

  20. Maria

    I believe my son’s first proper word (“da-da” aside) was “ball” and then lots of “b” words followed suit after that!

  21. Simone Lee

    My Daughters first word was MAMA

  22. Kathleen Marsden

    Keys was my sons first word and he said it over and over again

  23. Holly Detre

    Both my boys babbled dada for a long time, but my eldest childs first word that was used with the correct meaning was ‘ball’, and my youngest sons was ‘attend’, the french word for wait.

  24. shane weir

    my sons first word was mamam

  25. Allan Smith


  26. Heidi

    No words yet but hoping it will be Mama!!! :D

  27. Kiddicare

    Just lovely reading all your comments – thanks so much. Keep ‘em coming! Hope you’re loving the new blog. Kiddicare x

  28. Jill Osborne


  29. Victoria Boland

    Dat, which we learned meant “What’s That?”

  30. Gary Topley

    My daughters first word was Dada x

  31. Farhana Chowdhury


  32. nicci cowdell-murray

    My sons first word was dadda and my daughters first word was no lol …. probably cos i was foorever telling her older brother

  33. My daughter’s first word was Dada and my son’s first utterance was car!

  34. david holland


  35. Chloe

    My son is 16 months. He has said dada n mummy for a while and has just started saying “Harry” which is his cousins Name and for about 3 days EVERYTHING was Harry’

  36. Lydia Wright

    My sons first word was ‘up’

  37. Tammy young

    A lot of gurgling at the moment but I think there might be an odd dada in their somewhere!

  38. Gemma

    Pregnant with first so no first words yet but interested in the book so hope I can still be entered.

  39. Caroline Sadler

    No worlds as such but baby understands when I ask him if he wants milk and responds with an “uhh” and a smile. He’s only 4 1/2 months so got a little while yet :)

  40. Helen

    My daughter’s first word was ‘yeah’ in response to questions! At 15 months she now prefers to use the word ‘no’!

  41. Emma Beasy

    My little one is only 20 weeks old so no words yet but I think it will ‘Cat’ as he is fascinated by our 2 cats :-)

  42. Grandad was my daughters first word obviously it was not pronounced perfectly but it was her first word all the same ☺

  43. Jennie Large

    My son’s first word was dadadada… on Mothers day :)

  44. Jaclyn

    My boy’s first proper word was Mama- whilst reaching out for a biscuit! He had said da da da before that point but I took it as babbling rather than a proper first word.

  45. Caroline Mortimer

    Her first word was clock – at about a year old! It was because she had a book about clocks and telling the time. Everywhere she goes she points at all the clocks and says clock (well, she says gok sometimes!)

  46. Vicky Moulds

    My youngest now 2 could say Hiiyaaa from around 4/5 months old. We constantly said hiya and she started to make the same sound back. She is a complete chatter box now as I’m constantly talking to her. My middle child is exactly the same, she has a great vocabulary for a 5 year old.

  47. Caroline Smith


  48. Danielle Graves

    Jacob is nearly 9 months old and says Mama and Dada.

  49. Kim Massey

    “Bobby”…. I was always saying the dogs name telling him off for one thing or another

  50. Emily

    Both my kids said ‘Mama’ as their first word :D


    Slightly strange but my daughters first word, or words were ‘oh dear’ – think that was my fault as I seem to say it quite a lot! so far she only says that & ‘dadda’

  52. elliot dawson

    Daddy! lucky me, her mum wasn’t pleased she was hoping her name would be first

  53. Alice Hindley

    Da da!

  54. Nicola Shipston

    my daughter is 8.5 months and says dada and “at” for our cat but no mama yet!

  55. Gemma Tarrant

    My daughter said dada and mum mum but her first word which she said all the time was no lol x

  56. Sophie Kenworthy

    My daughter’s first word was ‘Dada’. My first son’s first word was ‘Mama’ and my second son’s first word was ‘tar’ (thank you).

  57. Nicola Harrison

    My sons first word was ‘more’ at about 11 months :)

  58. Katherine Barker

    My daughter is only 14 weeks so no words yet but plenty of chatter…even helping out some primary school children when they put on a Spanish fashion show at their after school club!

  59. Marianne Shaw

    We’ve not had a first word yet, but lots of “aah” and “ooh”. I’m hoping her first word will be “mama”!

  60. Hayley

    My little boys 1st word was NO!

    He stuck with that for a while, everything was no, the. He moved on to No MumMum

  61. Leoni

    My daughters first wird was Dadda. At 27 months she is waiting to see a speech therapist.

  62. Louise

    My sons first word was ‘rara’

  63. helen

    As a recently retired teacher and Senco ,I think this book is invaluable as it was hard to see children and parents in need have to join a long waiting list ,only to be seen every so often,due to shortage of or overworked speech therapist. It would have given ideas to all involved with the child’s development. Will you do a follow up?

  64. Kat Striesow

    The first real sound my daughter made was a perfect imitation of a cat meowing. Her first proper word however was ‘book’!!!

  65. Mohammad Ashraful Anam


  66. Dad! The irony is he was crap

  67. Sally Lah-Anyane

    Dada then mama then digger!

  68. Celia West

    Dada – there’s no justice!

  69. Lynda Sanderson

    it was hija

  70. meena suresh


  71. Diana Semionova


  72. Lucy Robinson

    Mum. X

  73. Joanne Kelly

    ‘Rock You’. Sounds like I’m making it up but I’m really not! I used to listen to Queen’s ‘We will Rock You’ and my little one started singing it before he said any other words x

  74. Kristy Brown

    Both of my children said mum first :)

  75. Lisa Wilkinson

    My baby is only 8 weeks so too young. However one of the sounds she has started to make sounds like ‘hiya’ which makes everyone freak out a bit when she does it!

  76. Katie Smith

    My eldest’s first word was bubble!

  77. sam bailey


  78. Claire Butler


  79. Karen R

    My daughter’s first word was Dada – and she’s always been a Daddy’s girl :)

  80. kerry thwaite

    My sons first proper word was mama and he only said it a few weeks ago , it was one of those moments both myself and hubby had a lump in our throat as we are currently going to speech threapy with him , it was a amazing feeling to hear him say it x

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