According to a raft of scientific evidence, chatty parents raise bright children. In fact, if you really want to help your tiny babe along the linguistic path, nattering away to her is one of the most conscientious things you can do. Though it may seem futile to converse with someone who can only muster a nonsensical babble back, baby is constantly learning from your communicative exchanges. Want your little one to become a verbal whizz? Here’s your essential guide to helping baby speak.
Start talking to baby early
You may think it’s premature to start chatting up your newborn, but as it turns out, this is one of the most effective ways to give her a head start in life. A study published by Pediatrics found the more words a preterm baby heard in a neonatal unit, the more likely she was to react with sounds of her own, emphasising the importance of speaking to even a wee little babe. Talk to your infant as much as possible. She will absorb much more than you think.
Don’t hold back on big words
Though words like ‘capricious’ and ‘dichotomy’ may seem beyond your baby’s reach right now, starting with complex terms can actually help her grasp them quicker. It will probably take hundreds and hundreds of exposures to such words, but the sooner you start, the sooner your child will understand them. Did you know 18-month olds’ learn roughly two to five new words every day? Pretty impressive, right?
Start an open dialogue
Your little one will very quickly zone out of a one-sided lecture, so give her opportunities to retort with something. For instance, you could ask her, ‘How about sweet corn for dinner?’ When she replies with, ‘Oooh, bah goo!’ say, ‘Yes, it’s my favourite too!’ How you respond doesn’t matter too much at this age. The point is that you’re teaching her the art of making conversation.
OK, let’s face it: for the first few months, baby isn’t going to have the foggiest about what’s going on in the books in you read her. But story time is so much more than that. As you snuggle together, discuss the pictures in any way you fancy – “look at the pretty bird” or “wow, isn’t the grizzly bear big and scary?” Touch-and-feel books are perfect for your infant too, especially if she’s less than 6 months old when her five senses act as a primary tool. Whatever book you choose, reading with your child can encourage a more creative use of vocabulary.
Switch off the TV
While educational TV shows do serve as an additional learning resource, they can never replace the face-to-face time you spend with your babe. A study at the University of Washington discovered that babies aged 8-16 months knew six to eight fewer words for every hour of TV they watched each day. Why? Well, you see the toing-and-froing of social interactions is central to speech development. You see, a Netflix programme won’t ever respond to your little babe. But when you smile or reply to her babbles, she will understand that she’s done something right and will be inspired to do it again.
Watch for body language cues
When you’re stuck in that incessant cycle of parenthood – feeding, burping, changing and comforting – it’s easy for your small talk to revolve around humdrum matters (read: “it’s bath time, honey!”) Don’t get us wrong – this is still helpful, but broadening your subject choice will only boost your child’s ability to master language. Follow your infant’s body language and eye contact. What excites her? What interests her? Use this to spark new conversation – you could think about describing an object’s size, colour or flavour.
Take home message
That proud moment when your little one says her first word – be it ‘Mama’ or ‘Dada’ – is one of a kind, truly. For some, it will come as early as 6 months, and for others, it may happen a little later – every child is different. Remember, your baby’s ability to grasp language is just like any other skill in her repertoire; the more attuned she is with hearing words, the more she’ll be able to verbally express her feelings. So get talking folks!
At The Essential One, we’re here to support you at every stage of parenthood. If you want to learn more about helping baby take on the big wide world, feel free to browse the rest of our New Baby 0-18 Months Advice.