Now We’re Talking!

How you can help your child with language development.

Nothing may be more exciting for parents than hearing their little one’s first words. It’s a magical moment when your baby’s babbling changes from gibberish into syllables. Those first little words will change your whole world. I will never forget the first time my daughter looked at my husband and said “Dada.” We both laughed and cheered for her like she had won a gold medal. It was no “Mama,” of course, but I was prepared. I had heard a lot of “dah’s” coming from her crib lately and knew she was working on something. And even though I tried hard to throw some extra “Mama’s” her way, she had made up her mind. Regardless, it was the most precious little word I had ever heard.

It’s amazing how fast babies learn to speak. It begins with a single word such as “Dada” or “Mama.” A few days later, it seems, they are asking for the keys to your car. No other animal on the planet can do that. It’s a unique talent that only humans are marked with, our advanced ability to express our thoughts to others in a way that can be understood. It’s not surprising that scientists have tried for centuries to understand how an infant can learn language in such an incredibly brief period, and still no concrete answers exist. One thing that we do know is that this rapid learning starts at birth and slows drastically around age 3. That means that more than 75 percent of all the language that we learn happens before we turn 3 years old. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), language development actually begins with newborns. “Your baby is able to communicate with you long before he or she speaks a single word. Crying is really your newborn’s primary form of vocalization. While crying is admittedly less than perfect in conveying what babies want or need, it’s definitely a start.”

The AAP notes that cooing and babbling officially begin around the age of 8 weeks and by 6 to 8 months, your baby will happily use her voice for making sounds and even some more elaborate streams of babble, but still no words yet. By the age of 1 year, be prepared to celebrate not only your baby’s first birthday, but also the long-awaited first words! At 18 months, your ears will likely be graced with the sounds of at least several stand-alone words. Your toddler may even be able to put two words together, like “all done.” By age 2, now we’re talking! Your little parrot can typically say about 50 to 100 words and have real conversations with four-word sentences. Before long, you’ll have a hard time remembering the sounds of your newborn’s silence.

That’s a lot to learn in just two short years and, while this process is a natural part of development, experts say there are ways you can help it along. Research from Stanford University’s Center for Infant Studies found that talking to your baby from birth not only helps him learn to speak earlier but also enables him to master a larger vocabulary. In fact, experts believe that chatting up your child is one of the most effective ways to give her a head start in life and can even increase her IQ. Use these tips to get the conversation going:

Talk to your newborn. A baby absorbs a lot more than you realize.

Watch for cues. If your baby is looking at something, talk about it.

Read a lot. Reading exposes your baby to new words you might not use every day.

Turn off the TV. TV shows don’t respond to your baby and nothing beats conversation.

If your baby doesn’t babble or imitate any sounds by his or her seventh month, it could mean a problem with hearing or speech development. If your child has had frequent ear infections, there might be some fluid remaining in the inner ear, and this could interfere with hearing. Talk to your pediatrician if you suspect a problem, but don’t worry too much. The AAP says that delays in language are the most common types of developmental delay and one out of five children will learn to talk later than other children his or her age. Simple speech delays are sometimes temporary and may resolve on their own or with a little extra help from family.

So turn off the tube, break out the books and start talking!

Categories: Little Ones