Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Learning to Talk Takes a Team Effort

It is amazing how quickly babies change. They grow so fast, learn so much, and gain some control over their bodies so quickly during those first few months. Before you know it, your baby is using words!  Learning to talk becomes one of your baby’s most important jobs as he becomes a toddler.  We’ve shared how babies develop their ability to communicate starting with basic cues and words during the first year that lead to a vocabulary explosion in the second year.
But did you know that you play an important role in your baby’s progress in learning how to talk? Babies don’t learn language on their own, they rely on the people who care for them to help them know what words mean and how and when to use them. Here are some language experts' “lessons learned” from the research on how babies learn to understand and use language.
  1. Repetition, repetition, repetition.
Developmental scientists have found that the most important factor influencing a child’s vocabulary is the “language environment.” Babies learn the words that they hear around them (keep that in mind when you stub your toe). Babies first learn the words they hear most often – such as their own names, and words used for clothing items and household objects.  When your baby is able to point to objects, you’ll find that your baby seems to want to play the “name game “all day long. This is a very important process. Not only will your baby point at things for you to name but your baby will look at your face to see how you “feel” about the object.  Your baby is learning a lot more than words; your baby is learning about safety and context and where things and people fit in the world.
  1. Babies understand language before they can use it.
For a long time, researchers thought that understanding language occurred much later than it actually does for most babies. That’s because scientists had to rely on tests that required that babies demonstrate some use of language (like naming objects or following directions). But, many babies didn’t do well on the tests because they were still learning to make consistent sounds with their mouths and to control their bodies. Newer tests show that babies can understand many words and even the structure of language far before they can use words to communicate. That means that for a while, you’ll have to play “translator” for your baby, figuring out what she needs and communicating those needs back to her and to others.
  1. Learning and using language relies on multiple skills and different parts of babies’ brains.
The use of language (not just words) takes a lot of brain power. Babies need to use their sensory, memory, analytical, motor, and social skills all at once to communicate with the world. That means that many parts of their brains are used when they are learning and using words.  You play a very special role in this process.  Your baby needs you to be on “his team” to make it all happen.  Let your baby explore, hear you talk, see your face, and watch your emotional responses to objects and experiences. Make sure that your baby has plenty of chances to see how you interact with other people in positive ways. Support your baby’s efforts as he tries to communicate with you and others. Take the time to see how your baby uses his whole body and brain to interact with his world. It’s an exciting and fast paced process as your baby will double his usable vocabulary between 18 and 21 months and again from 21 to 24 months.   Go team!
Hollich G. Early Language. In: Infant Development. 2nd Edition. Volume 1. Basic Research. JG Bremner and TD Wachs (Eds.). Wiley-Blackwell, 2010.

1 comment:

  1. I have a 15 month old who is really starting to explore language so I find this post especially interesting. Thanks!