Baby Tips For First Time Parents (Part 3): Language DevelopmentPosted: January 22, 2013
Chugging along with our Baby Tips for First Time Parents series, today’s topic is a personal favorite. Being a writer with an English degree, a baby’s language development is close to my heart. There are many tools that we as parents can use to help our babies get off to a good start in their language skills. Here are some of my best tips!
-Read. From birth. Every day. There is no better way to encourage a good vocabulary and an early desire to read than by reading to your baby on a daily basis. Take some time each day, whether it’s in the morning or before bedtime, to snuggle up with a few books.
-Have books accessible on your baby’s level. Whether it’s a low (sturdy) bookshelf or a basket or bin on the floor, having cloth books and board books available for your baby to grab, turn the pages, and look at the pictures on his or her own is also a great way to let them have early exposure to language in print form.
-Give them a constant play-by-play of daily activities. Babies are so curious about this world that is brand new to them. And as parents, we are their first tour guide. When we take the time to talk them through daily activities, a play-by-play of the day, (i.e. “Let’s change your diaper! Here are the wipes. Here is the diaper.”) it gives them an opportunity to hear a variety of words and to let them begin to make connections between the words you say and how those words relate to their daily life.
-Ask open-ended questions. This makes you feel a bit like you’re talking to yourself all day long (as an infant teacher, I was often in a room for 8 hours a day with only four babies to talk to… talk about one-sided conversations!), but it is key to encouraging your baby to respond and to develop the back and forth rhythm of conversational language. Listen for cues that your baby might be trying to attempt words or conversation. For example, here is a conversation I had this morning with my 8-month-old while he was playing with a soft ball:
“What is that?” I asked.
“Oh, is that a ball?”
Silence as he concentrated on picking up the ball.
“What does the ball feel like?”
“A ga da ba da.” (or some sort of baby babble!)
“Does that feel soft?”
“What can you do with that ball?”
“Can you throw the ball?”
(more baby babble as he chews on the ball)
“I see that you can taste the ball too! What does the ball taste like?”
-Repetition. Notice in the previous example that I repeated the word “ball” several times, since that was the toy he was playing with. Repeating the same simple words over and over again helps a baby learn to recognize words before they can even speak them. This is called their receptive language. Also, the words you repeat most often usually become some of the first words that your baby can speak, such as Mama, Dada, dog, ball, eat, etc. Generally speaking, the more often they hear a word, the faster they will attempt to repeat them back to you.
-Minimize the use of baby talk. Babies learn their behaviors through both their own curious exploration and through modeling that they see from their parents. It makes sense that if a baby is hearing proper language as opposed to baby talk, that they will learn to pronounce words correctly faster than if they are hearing them pronounced incorrectly. (Consequently, I need to work on this one! I have a bad habit of using the word “tweepy” instead of “sleepy.” Don’t ask where it came from, it just comes out! I’m working on this one right along with you!!) Babies do love a high-pitched voice, so it’s okay to use baby-friendly tones and inflections, as long as you are pronouncing words correctly and clearly for them!
-Finally, consider using baby sign-language. Some parents feel like using sign-language with their baby might delay their baby’s speech development, but it actually enhances it! Think of language development just like motor skills development. You need to learn to stand before you can walk, right? So I like to think of sign language as giving your baby “legs to stand on” before their speech can take off. If they can communicate with you clearly with signs (typically age 7-9 months) before they might be able to communicate using words (10-12 months), it may help them feel confident in themselves and their own ability to get their needs met. Also, imagine being in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language. How would you get the things you need? If you’re looking for a place to buy a drink, you might ask a local using sign the universal sign for “drink” by cupping your hand and putting it to your mouth. The local will understand what you need, and they can point you in the right direction. They might even repeat the sign and say the word “drink” in their own language for you, so that you can hear it and hopefully remember it the next time you need a drink! Using sign language would help you feel more at ease in the unfamiliar environment and it would help you in making early connections with other people while you are learning their spoken language. These are some of the same benefits that sign language can give your baby. Click here for a short list of starter words for baby sign language!
I hope this list will help to strengthen your communication with your baby as she is developing her language skills!
Be sure to check back next Tuesday for Part 4 of this series where we will have some tips for your baby’s motor skill development!