Your child's first words are an important milestone. We tell you how to talk with your baby and encourage her language skills.
Speak In a Singsong Style
In the meantime, there are several things you can do to "converse" with your baby. One of the most important is what a lot of people call baby talk-using that high, lilting voice that many moms (and some dads, too) seem to adopt naturally when talking to their little ones. Psychologists call it motherese and are discovering that this speaking style plays a vital role in teaching babies about language. In fact, scientists have documented the higher and wider pitch, shorter sentences, longer pauses, and repetition that are characteristic of motherese in many different languages.
How does this singsong speaking style help babies learn to talk? First, it captures a baby's attention and builds a bond of trust between the two of you by letting him know that you are focused completely on him. Motherese also teaches infants some of the rules of language. For example, experts have noted that the exaggerated intonation and selective word emphasis in motherese makes it easier for a baby to know when it's his turn to "talk." These same traits also help your baby sort individual words from the sea of sounds that he hears.
Baby Talk Tips
- Raise your pitch. The younger your baby, the higher your voice should be. Normal adult speech ranges in pitch from 90 to 300 megahertz; infants are most sensitive to speech at 500 megahertz. But dads who can't get their voices that high needn't worry: Following these other guidelines can make deeper voices equally enthralling.
- Speak in singsong. To entertain your little one, speak to him in a high pitch with a wide-ranging "melody." To soothe him, try lowering your pitch and modulating the melody.
- Emphasize points of interest. Use stress and repetition to highlight key words, such as "Look at the puppy. Nice puppy."
- Use short, simple sentences in the present tense. Don't worry, however, if you find yourself adding "-ie" to nouns, such as in "doggie." By doing this, you're calling attention to word endings, helping your little one prepare for such endings as "-es" and "-ed," which she will eventually have to add to words.
- Ham it up. Your baby will learn faster if you exaggerate your inflection, gesture a lot to indicate what you're talking about, and generally give your speech a sense of excitement.
- Eliminate pronouns. Words such as he, she, yours, and mine tend to be confusing to most babies. Say instead, "Mommy's cup" or "Emily has a dolly."
- Link objects and their names. You would look pretty foolish darting around and pointing out objects ("Ball! Books! Applesauce! Doll!")-and it wouldn't help your baby much, either. But naming objects as you use them, and discussing them in natural conversation with your child, will help him to learn faster. Emphasize things that are part of your baby's life. When you're changing him say, "Here's your diaper. We're going to put your diaper on."
- Read books to your baby. Pointing out familiar, everyday objects in picture books and talking about them will also help your baby to make a connection between items and their names.
- Follow her lead. Note what your baby is interested in at a given moment and discuss it with her. For instance, if she's looking intently at the fish tank, point out how the fish are swimming in the water. Research has shown that if you delay and your baby's focus shifts, the effect of your interaction will be lost.
- Try to understand your child's attempts to talk. If your baby is trying to label something, look where he's pointing and name what he's focusing on. He'll be thrilled when you name the object of his desire. To a great extent, your baby will learn to speak from you or from her caregiver. She won't get much out of group conversations, in which people tend to speak rapidly and to use unfamiliar words. She also won't learn much from outsiders, whose expressions and tones are alien to her. In fact, third and fourth children often lag behind in language development because they get so little opportunity for one-on-one conversation with their parents-although by the time that they're in preschool, many slow-to-speak kids have caught up with their peers.
Baby See, Baby Do
Your child has reached the point where he should be able to copy simple demonstrations. This ability to imitate reveals progress in many areas of development, including manual skills, sociability, and intelligence. Taking time to show him how to perform simple tasks will speed his learning and lay the groundwork for future educational experiences.
When your child is in a playful mood, take a basket and some balls and slowly put the balls in the basket, explaining what you are doing while he's watching. Then empty the basket and see if he joins in. If not, don't push-just try again another day.
All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.