Nothing is more anticipated and exciting than your
child's first word. Many parents would say that their babies began to talk when
they said their first word. However, in reality, children begin to prepare for
that show-stopping moment while still in the womb.
Parents' interest and interactions with their children from the moment of
birth is essential. Recent scientific research suggests that during the first
three years of life, parents can "shape" their baby's brain and set the
foundation for their life's learning.
This is because, as we now know, the human brain is not fully developed at
Beginning shortly after birth, a baby's brain begins to undergo magnificent
changes. During the first year of life, it will actually double in weight and
use twice as much energy as an adult brain. This is not because of new cell
growth, but because of the trillions of connections or pathways that develop
between cells. These connections enable your baby to think and learn.
Babies simply do not receive enough genes from their mother and father to
make all of these pure, unprogrammed connections work. Scientists now know that
what a child sees, hears, touches, and feels during the early years of life
strengthens and shapes the trillions of finer connections that will work together
to foster learning through life. However, at different times during a baby's
development, some of the pathways that have not been used and reinforced by
learning experiences in the outside world may be shed and lost forever.
If a baby is provided with a lot of stimulation, however, the connections are
strengthened and may remain active forever. Many of these connections involve
language skills. Research has shown that children's development of language
is an important step in their ability to learn and think, and has a significant
impact on their overall educational experience.
Experts agree that the more language your baby hears and the more responsive
you are to his communication -- even his earliest babbles -- the more his inborn
ability to acquire language will be enhanced. This is because daily exposure
to words helps the brain pathways that foster language learning to develop more
According to research by Janellen Huttenlocher of the University of Chicago,
the actual size of a toddler's vocabulary is strongly correlated with how much
her mother talks to her. Dr. Huttlenlocher found that at 20 months old, the
children of chatty mothers averaged 131 more words than the children of mothers
who didn't speak much. At two years of age, the gap more than doubled to 295
Other researchers have found that talking to children a lot not only affects
their vocabulary, but also their intelligence. At age three, children who scored
the highest on intelligence quotient and language tests were the ones who had
heard the greatest number of words at age one and two. In third grade, when
these children were re-tested, the children of the chatty parents were still
found to have greater language skills that the children whose parents did not
talk as much.
Even though your baby may be surrounded by conversation from birth on, it
is important that you talk directly to her long before she can talk back to
you. Before a child can speak or use expressive language, she must understand
words. In order to understand words, a child must know the meanings of those
words -- that is, what actions, objects, or thought these words represent.
The natural way for your baby to learn the meanings of words is to listen to
you talk in relation to the events going on around you. In this manner, she
will learn to associate the words you say with the actions, objects, or thoughts
you describe. Just because a baby isn't talking yet doesn't mean she is not
listening and learning the meanings of words and actions. Your don't need to
ask her a lot of questions or require her to respond. Your purpose is to build
her understanding of language to help her expression of language.
Talking can and should be a part of everything you and your child do together.
Describe your actions as you make the bed, set the table, or pour your child
a drink. Talk about the shiny tinfoil and let him see his reflection as you
pack sandwiches for lunch. As you dress your child, name his body parts, talk
about kinds of clothes and where they go ("Shoes go on your feet, shirts
go over your head."). If possible, let your child accompany you to the
supermarket, post office or on other errands around town. At the supermarket,
as you push your cart through the produce section, you can find every color,
texture, and shape imaginable to describe to your child. Remember that if you
talk to your baby about what you're doing, seeing, feeling, and touching as
it is happening, even the most routine activities can be a learning experience
Here are other ways to create a language-rich environment for your child:
- Be a Good Model. Experts believe you should not use or encourage "baby
talk." Speak clearly, naturally, and most important, correctly. Before
your baby speaks, he will listen to everything you say and how you say it.
When he starts to talk, he will imitate the word patterns he has been hearing.
- Tune into Your Child and Follow Her Lead. Researchers believe it's
very important not to push your child, but rather to follow her lead. Keep
talking and playing with your child as long as she listens. A baby will smile
and tell you with eye contact that she is engaged in the activity. As your
child begins to communicate with you, focus on words and objects that are
central to her life or on which she is focusing at the moment.
- Be a Good Listener. Beginning shortly after birth, your baby beings
to express himself with sounds and facial expressions. When he coos or babbles,
just be quiet and listen. Stop what you are doing, stand close to your child,
and bend down to his eye level. Then respond. Repeat what he says or use words
to tell him you approve of his talking and understand his message. Being a
good listener teaches your child a fundamental part of all communication --
- Help Your Child Develop Listening Skills. Children must listen to
learn and learn to listen. Hearing the difference between sounds is a critical
link to reading. Give your child experience listening to many different sounds
by commenting on the sounds around you -- "Listen to the clock ticking."
or "Do you hear the airplane?" Talk about the sounds your child
makes when she splashes in the tub, claps her hands and stamps her feet.
- Know What to Expect from Your Child. Just as children mature physically
at different rates, they develop language at different rates, especially during
the second year of life. Since both expecting too much and expecting too little
can be harmful, it's important to know if your child is developing and progressing
in all areas at an acceptable rate.
If you have any questions or concerns about your child's language
development, it's wise to consult your pediatrician or a speech/language
pathologist for advice and/or referral to the appropriate specialist.