You’ve come a long way, baby. From a newborn whose only way of communicating was crying, and who understood nothing but his or her own primal needs; to a six-month-old who was beginning to articulate sounds, comprehend words, and express anger, frustration and happiness; to an eight-month-old who was able to convey messages through primitive sounds and gestures; and now, to a ten-month-old who has uttered his or her first words.
Here’s how you can help your baby’s language development:
- Label, label, label. Everything in your baby’s world has name – use it. Verbally label objects in baby’s home environment play ‘eyes-nose-mouth’ and point out other body parts: point to birds, dogs, trees, laves, flowers, cars, trucks and fire engines while you’re out walking. Don’t leave out people – point our mummies, daddies, babies, women, men, girls, boys. Or baby – use his or her name often to help develop a sense of identity.
- Listen, listen, listen. As important as what you say to your baby is how much you let your baby say to you. Even if you haven’t identified any real words yet; listen to the babble and respond: ‘Oh, that’s very interesting,’ or ‘Is that so?’ When you ask a question, wait for an answer, even if it’ just a smile, excited body language, or undecipherable babble. Make a concerted effort to pick out words from baby’s verbal ramblings; many first words are so garbled that parents don’t notice them. try to match baby’s unrecognizable words with the objects they may represents; they may not even sound remotely correct, yet if the child uses the same ‘word’ for the same object consistently, it counts. When you have trouble translating what your baby’s asking for, point to possible candidates, giving him or her a chance to tell you whether you’ve guessed right. There will be frustration on both sides until baby’s requests become more intelligent, but you continuing to attempt to act as interpreter will help speed language development as well as provide baby with the satisfaction of being at least somewhat understood.
- Concentrate on concepts. So much of what you take for granted, baby has yet to learn. Here are just a few concepts can probably think of many more. Be sure to say the word for the concept as you and baby act it out.
- Explain the environment and cause and effect. ‘The sun is bright so we have light.’ ‘The refrigerator keeps food cold so it will taste good and stay fresh’, ‘Mummy uses a little brush to brush your teeth, a medium brush to scrub the floor.’ ‘Flip the wall switch up and the room becomes light, down and it’s dark.’ And so on. An expanded awareness and understanding of his or her surroundings, as well as sensitivity to other people and their needs and feelings, is a fat more important step towards your baby’s eventual mastery of language and reading than learning to parrot a lot of meaningless words.
- Become colour conscious. Start identifying colours whenever it’s appropriate. ‘See, that balloon is red, just like your shirt,’ or ‘That truck is green; your pushchair is green, too,’ or ‘Look at those pretty yellow flowers’. Keep in mind, however, that most children don’t ‘learn’ their colours until sometime around age three.
- Use-double speak. Use adult phrases, then translate them into baby shorthand: ‘Now you and I are going for a walk. Daddy, Connor, go bye-bye.’ ‘Oh, you’ve finished your snack. Brandon made all gone’. Talking twice as much as.
- Don’t talk like a baby. Using simplified grown-up talk, rather than baby talk, will help your baby learn to speak correctly faster: ‘Abby wants a bottle?’ is better than ‘Baby wanna baba?’ Forms like ‘doggie’ or ‘dolly’, however, are fine to use with young children – they’re naturally more appealing.
- Introduce pronouns. Though your baby probably won’t be using pronouns correctly for a year or more, the end of the first year is a good time to start developing familiarity with them by using them along with names. ‘Daddy is going to get Josh some breakfast – I’m going to get you something to eat.’ ‘This book is Mummy’s – it’s mine – and that book is Olivia’s – it’s yours.’ This last also teaches the concept of ownership.
- Urge baby to talk back. Use any ploy you can think of to try to get your baby to respond, in either words or gestures. Resent choices: ‘Do you want bread or crackers?’ or ‘Do you want to wear your Mickey Mouse pyjamas or the ones with aeroplanes?’ and then give baby a chance to point to or vocally indicate the favoured selection, which you should then name. Ask questions: ‘Are you tired?’ ‘Would you like a snack?’ ‘Do you want to go on the swing?’ A shake of the head will probably precede a verbal yes or no, but it still represents a response. Get baby to help you locate things (even if they aren’t really lost): ‘Can you find the ball?’ Give baby plenty of time to turn up the item, and reward with cheers. Even looking in the right direction should count – ‘That’s right. There’s the ball!’
- Never force the issue. Encourage your baby to talk by saying, ‘Tell Mummy what you want’ when he or she uses non-verbal communication to indicate a need. If baby grunts or point again, offer a choice: for instances, ‘Do you want to bear the dog?’ If you still get a non-verbal response, name the item yourself, ‘Oh, it’s the dog you want’, and then hand it over. Never withhold something because your child can’t ask for it by name or because he or she pronounces the name incorrectly. Eventually, the verbal responses will outnumber the non-verbal.
- Keep directions simple. Sometimes around the first birthday, most toddlers can begin following simple commands, but only if they’re issued one step at a time. Instead of ‘Please pick up the spoon and give it to me,’ try ‘Please pick up the spoon,’ and when that’s been done, add Now, please give the spoon to the Daddy.’ You can also help your baby enjoy early success in following commands by giving commands that he or she is about to carry out anyway. If, for example, your baby is reaching for a cracker, say ‘Pick up the cracker.’ These techniques will help develop comprehension, which must precede speech.
- Expand your reading repertoire. Rhymes are still favourites with babies entering their toddler’s years, as are books with pictures of animals, vehicles, toys and children. A few children are ready for very simple stories, though most won’t be willing to sit still for them for several months yet. Even those who are ready to usually canít handle more than three or four minutes with a book at this age – their attention span is still short. You’ll hold it longer if you make reading interactive, a process baby can participate in fully.
- Think numerically. Counting may be a long way off for baby, but the concept of one or many isn’t. Comments like , ‘Here, you can have one biscuit,’ or ‘Look, see how many birds are in that tree,’ or ‘You have two kitty cats’ will start to inculcate some basic mathematical concepts. Count, or recite, ‘One, two, buckle my shoe’, as you climb the stairs with your baby particularly once he or she can walk up while you hold both hands. Sing number rhymes, such as ‘Baa, baa, black sheep’ or ‘This old man, he played one, he played knickknack on my thumb.
- Use signs. Many parents enjoy using signs and hand motions for words with their baby to encourage communication, enhance understandings, and even, as some studies show, promote language development.