The foundation for language learning starts early, when you gain your baby’s attention, call his or her name, talk softly, hold and cuddle, sing, rock, feed and dress your baby. All of these moments are language learning moments.
Remember when you brought your baby home from the hospital after his birth. Was it an exasperating time? Exciting and demanding? It is in this first year, and the two thereafter, that your baby experiences the most rapid growth.
Between birth and three, babies are hungry for social attention and interaction. Each and every interaction your baby has can be a learning experience.
How Your Baby Builds Communication Skills
Early on, babies initiate eye contact, enjoy listening to mother’s voice and communicate many feelings such as pleasure, anxiety, surprise and discomfort. Language can be described as the entire communication system through which we interact. This system includes crying, facial expressions, body movements, gestures, and the ability to express feelings and thoughts through words.
Long before speech is acquired, your baby desires to communicate. It is a joy simply to watch your baby and become aware of the subtleties of his communication.
- What does it mean when he kicks his feet and flails his hands? Is he content, happy, and ready to play?
- What does it mean when he screams and turns away from you? That he’s had enough stimulation? That he needs quiet time now?
The first year of life, babies normally babble a variety of sounds with various inflections, first to practice and complete the feedback loop of hearing. At around 12-15 months, first words appear, followed by two word phrases and often times, lots of jargon so that your child sounds like he is talking in sentences.
You Can Promote Language Learning
Throughout all the day’s activities, you can stimulate and teach your child, in an indirect way, by naming his things, singing to him, and responding to his words. Language and communication are not separate activities but are a part of every interaction.
As you play games with your baby, talk to him, point out new words, show him pictures in books, change a diaper, feed him lunch… all of these are opportunities for you to gain his attention for learning.
You are your child’s best teacher. Providing stimulation is a natural part of caring for him while you are dressing, feeding, bathing, and playing together. All babies are different; some thrive on intense stimulation, while others display a more toned down approach. By paying attention to his subtle cues, and providing attentive, loving care, your baby’s language skills will thrive to the best of his abilities.
If Speech is Delayed, What Do You Do?
If you feel your baby is delayed in speech and language skills, weekly visits with a speech therapist may help you to scaffold your child to his next stage of development. If speaking is delayed, perhaps an augmentative system utilizing picture exchange or communication boards may help cut down on the frustration you experience communicating. In the long run, recognizing problems and planning a program of intervention are the first steps to overcoming them.
Monica Devine is the author of the book, Baby Talk (Berkley paperback).