Language doesn't only refer to the spoken word, and this is why infant language development really begins the moment that your baby is born. Language incorporates verbal skills as well as gesturing and facial expressions. Both language and speech develop at a rapid pace during the first three years of an individual's life. This is the most critical period for language and speech development.
When Language Development Begins
There is more and more evidence to support the fact that there are certain periods in a child's life in which the brain is better able to absorb language. According to Isa Marrs, a board certified pediatric speech language pathologist, "Babies begin to develop speech and language from the moment they are born. Some research shows that they are learning their mother's voice in the womb. They are absorbing every sound they hear and understanding before they begin to talk. That's why it is so important for parents to always talk to and interact with their babies. They are learning language before they are able to show it."
Your newborn will soon be able to discern a barrage of important sounds in his world. These will include your voice, as well as your spouse's and other family member's voices. He'll also begin to notice the difference in voice tones, and he'll respond appropriately. According to Marrs, "By the time they are three months old, babies can distinguish between happy and angry tones. They also have several recognizable cries with different meanings. These are both examples of babies learning language."
Your infant will begin to communicate through her cries soon after she is born. In as little as a week or two, you'll be able to pick up on what her different cries might mean. Before long, you'll recognize the difference between a hungry cry, a sleepy cry, and an overstimulated cry, and you'll be able to respond to those cries appropriately. When you do, you are communicating with your infant!
Your baby will attempt her first "words" at six to eight weeks of age. They won't be real words, but she'll attempt to vocalize a syllable or two by cooing at you. When she does and you respond, you'll be rewarded with a big smile on her face.
As she approaches her six to eight months' birthday, she may actually be able to babble "ma ma ma," or "da da da." She'll also do more and more babbling as she tries out new syllables and sounds everyday.
Helping Your Infant
Did you know that your infant heard your voice before he was even born? Some parents talk to their babies while they are still in the womb, and others even play music and read stories to them.
Once your baby is born, there are lots of things you can do to encourage her language development.
- It's fine to use a high-pitched sing-song voice. In fact, studies have shown that infants are more likely to respond to this type of voice rather than a normal voice.
- Talk to your infant every day. Look into her eyes and talk to her about what you are doing, what she is doing, and what is going on in the world around her.
- As soon as your pediatrician gives you the all clear, take your infant with you to the store, the park, the movies, your church, and anywhere else you might go. It is important to expose her to new experiences in the world around her.
- Use common, every day words over and over, and point to objects as you name them.
- Finally, read to your infant! You may want to start out purchasing books that are colored in red, white, and black, and as your baby grows, trade those in for brightly colored books.
Marrs encourages parents to, "Talk, talk, and talk to them some more. Describe what you're doing as you go about your daily tasks. Read them books and sing songs to them. Get down on their level and play with them. Don't be afraid to be silly and laugh with your children. They don't need mechanical toys or television; they need you. Children learn language through modeling those around them. The more you speak to them the better."
Your child's first year of life will fly by. She'll learn new skills almost every day, and you'll be her most loyal cheerleader. Make every opportunity for her to learn something new count!