Having a baby is undoubtedly one of life´s greatest adventures. Once your little one arrives there are so many milestones to look forward to. That overwhelmingly cute first smile, rolling, crawling, walking, having their first solid meal and, of course, baby´s first words.
What is my baby going to say first? Mama or Dada? Or maybe something completely different. When is my baby going to say his/her first recognisable word? Is my baby going to be an early or late talker? Things may go through your mind like “how can I encourage baby to talk?” All of these questions go through a parent´s excited mind.
But even though we want to hear those adorable first words as quickly as possible, we have to keep in mind that each child is different and they develop at a different pace.
For example, my son said his first clear word when he was around 13 months old. Not very early, not very late either. He did it at his own pace and when he was ready.
There´s not much we can do about it except be patient and encourage the baby to talk through some specific activities and habits.
Before we get started, let’s take a quick look at a child’s language development from birth to two years of age. Remember that this is just a broad guideline and each child has his/her own pace. However, if you feel that your baby may have trouble speaking (by the age of 2 has not yet uttered any recognizable words) be sure to consult with your pediatrician.
This is when you’ll first start hearing sounds from your baby. They’ll coo and vocalize pleasure and displeasure by laughing, crying, and fussing. You’ll also notice that your baby will start to respond when you speak to them, although they’re not quite forming real words.
Babies will start using single consonants/vowels or syllables like “ba” “pa” “pf” “m” “a”. You’ll notice that they will begin to understand common phrases such as “no-no,” although they may not be able to accurately put the face to the name like “ma-ma” and “da-da.
During this stage, you should be able to hear their first word!
At this stage, your baby should be able to answer some simple questions nonverbally and say 2-3 words to label a person or object. Their pronunciation may be unclear, but they’re actively trying to communicate. Your baby should also try to imitate simple words.
At this point, your baby is only expected to have a vocabulary of four to six-words.
Between 12 to 18 months of age, your baby is no longer considered a “baby” and is considered a toddler. If your toddler is falling behind in speech development, you will need to consult your pediatrician about your next steps to provide your little one support.
Most babies will speak when they’re ready, some sooner, some later. Still, there are a few things that we, as parents, can do every day to encourage our baby to talk and communicate with us.
Remember, speech is not the only way to communicate. If your baby is struggling to develop their speech, you may want to consider introducing baby sign language to help your baby communicate.
Let’s take a look at some of my top tips for encouraging your baby to talk:
As soon as the baby is born get into the habit of talking to them even if it may seem pointless. How much can a newborn understand after all? The answer is a lot. The more you expose your little one to spoken language the better. You may not see immediate results but be sure that your baby is listening and learning.
And if you are wondering what could you possibly talk about with a newborn, well, it doesn´t have to be something specific. You can simply narrate what you are doing whether it be washing the dishes or changing the diaper.
Numerous studies have revealed that, besides exposing your baby to language, your voice also has a soothing effect on your baby.
Get in the habit of verbally labelling familiar objects around the house. As you go about your day, you will get plenty of opportunities of naming objects like “apple”, “cup”, “teddy” etc. Later on, when the baby starts pointing at things, be sure to name them in a conversational type of tone “Oh, look! It’s your cup”.
I know it might get boring (let’s be honest) saying particular words 100 times a day but repetition is a good way to encourage your baby to pick up vocabulary. So be sure to name the foods that they eat, the toys they play with, everyday objects that they come in contact with every time you get the chance.
Songs and nursery rhymes are a fantastic way of encouraging speech in babies. In general, children love music so they will pick up many words from them especially if the words are accompanied by gestures.
Nowadays there is a broad selection of toys for babies that are aimed at speech development. I am particularly fond of open-ended toys like dolls and figurines, building blocks, simple puzzles etc.
Of course, you can also opt for electronic games, with lights and speech but make sure they don’t get too overwhelming for your child.
A simple, yet powerful method to help your baby’s vocabulary is reading to them every day. Get them used to this routine from birth and you will surely see the benefits later on. Even if sometimes they don’t seem to listen to the story, don’t give up.
Some excellent storybooks for children are “The Very Hungry Caterpillar”, “Doughnuts for a dragon”, “Blue and Bertie”, “The Whale and the Snail” (actually all of Julia Donaldson´s books are brilliant).
I recommend reading a book as part of your baby or toddler’s bedtime routine to get them ready for bed and encourage speech.
When talking to your baby be sure to pronounce the words clearly, at a normal speaking pace and, very important, always face them when speaking. Besides hearing your voice, babies also need to see your mouth moving and the expression on your face.
Most of the time when you are talking to your little sunshine try using a calm, warm voice. There is no need to use a “baby voice” as it will simply make the words more difficult to understand, plus you want your baby to pick up on realistic voice inflexions. With that said, of course, there will be moments when you will use funny voices for the delight of your little one.
Besides the occasional funny voices, grab your babies attention by making funny faces and gestures. These may help the baby associate the amusing face and gesture with the word(s).
Whenever possible, expose them to more words by offering them choices. For example, you can say things like: “Do you want to eat an apple (pointing to the apple) or a banana (pointing to the banana)?” or “Do you want the ball or the car?”. Make sure that you emphasize the two words through gestures (pointing or lifting them) and tone.
Praise and encourage any attempt that your baby may have at pronouncing words. If, for example, your baby says “babo” meaning the bottle, you can say “Yees, that’s right, well done. Here is the bottle”.
Remember that language development in children is quite a complex process that takes time. And even though sometimes it may feel like your baby isn’t assimilating any vocabulary or not listening, arm yourself with patience and be ready to repeat many words and sentences 100 times/day (I may be slightly exaggerating here). That magic moment when you hear the first words will come.
Language development in babies needs to be supported through consistent interaction so hopefully, the tips above will offer some support and inspiration.
Tip: Do not compare your child to others. Most of the time, comparison puts unnecessary pressure on you and your baby and brings about frustration and worry. Your neighbour’s child already has 10 words in her vocabulary while yours only utters 3-4? Don´t you worry! It is not a competition and in 5 years this will be irrelevant.
Each child is different and develops at a different pace.
Having said this, follow your instinct as a parent and if you suspect that something is wrong so not hesitate to talk to a professional.