“Language learning begins in the womb,” says Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, Ph.D., a respected infant language researcher and coauthor of How Babies Talk: The Magic and Mystery of Language in the First Three Years of Life. “A baby is eavesdropping on each conversation her mother has once hearing is in place at seven months.”
Your baby will begin by using her tongue, lips, palate and any emerging teeth to make sounds.
Researchers have discovered that newborns comprehend speech patterns and that at 4 and a half months, infants recognize the sound patterns of their own names, and can tell it apart from other names.
At 6 months, babies understand the words “mama” and “papa” and can relate these to their own parents.
In an earlier study by the National Academy of Sciences, researchers measured blood flow to the brain in sleeping infants as they were played recordings of women reading – which were played forward, then backward.
Findings showed that during the “forward” readings, blood flow to the left hemisphere of the brain, which processes speech in adults, increased.
The opposite was true during the backward readings. This is why researchers believe that humans are wired to learn language.
What can parents do?
From 0-3 months, your baby listens to your voice. She coos and gurgles and tries to make the same sounds you make.
- Sing to your baby even before she is born. She will hear you.
- Always engage your child in conversation, and also talk to others in her presence. Even though she won’t understand the words, she will enjoy hearing the words.
- Babies need an opportunity to babble and play quietly without the TV, radio or other noises.
From 3-6 months, your baby learns about conversation.
- Hold your baby close and talk to her and smile.
- Imitate the sounds your child makes when she babbles.
- Repeat words if your baby tries to say the word again.
Between 6-9 months, your baby will play with sounds such “baba or “dada.” Your baby will smile when she hears a happy voice and cry when they hear an angry voice.
- Allow your child to look at herself in the mirror and ask questions. Such as who is that. Say her name if she doesn’t respond.
- Ask your child questions like where is daddy?
Between 9-12 months, your baby will begin to understand simple words. She stops to look at you if you say “no-no.” She will also point to show you what she wants. Now also a great time to teach your baby how to wave bye-bye.
- Ask your baby to show you her nose, ears, eyes and mouth by pointing to them. She will point to the write body parts before you know it.
- Hide her toy and help her find it. Share in her excitement when you find the toy.
- When your baby hands you something, talk to her about that objet. “Thank-you for giving mama the cup. Let’s drink water from the cup.”
Between 12-15 months, babies begin to use words. This includes using the same sounds consistently to identify an object, such as “baba” for everything.
- Ask your baby questions when taking a walk. Encourage your baby to name things such as dog, cup, and hat.
Between 15-18 months, your child will use more complex gestures to communicate with you and will continue to build her vocabulary.
- Ask about things you do each day—“Which dress will you wear today?”
- Expand on what your child says. If she says dog. Say “what a big dog,” for example
Between 18-24 months, your baby will be able to follow directions and begin to put words together, such as “want juice.”
- Give your child instructions, such as “please put your cup on the table,” or bring your doll.
- Teach your child nursery rhymes.
- Encourage your child to talk to friends and family. She can tell them about a new toy.
- Engage your child in pretend play.
Between ages 2 and 3, your child’s language skills will improve dramatically. Your child will have more words to string together in sentences and by 36 months, she will be able to answer slightly more complicated questions such as, “What do feel like eating later.”
The best thing parents can do for their child is to constantly talk to them. Research shows that children whose parents spoke to them extensively when they were babies have a significantly higher IQ than other children. These children also have a larger vocabulary.
Read a book out loud to your child. Keep talking and soon enough she will start talking back. Also remember to speak using normal language as often as possible, and avoid too much baby talk.