Although your baby might not understand you yet, the way you speak to them in their first year can make a difference later on.
It’s true that babies’ brains are like sponges. They’re ready to absorb! During their first year of life, a baby’s brain is collecting sound and organising it. At first, they only hear differences in loudness and pitch (how high or low the sound is). Next, they begin to hear the differences between speech sounds (b, d, p, etc.) and words. Then they start to learn that those words can be associated with objects in the word around them. And once they have all that figured out, they can begin speaking.
Should I use baby talk or adult talk?
Use simple language. Your baby will learn how to speak from you. So if you’re speaking 20 words at once, at a million miles per hour, they won’t be able to take it all in. The best way to teach your child to speak is to use language that is just one step above their own. So if your child isn’t talking yet, then use just one word at a time (as well as naming things, like ‘cat’ and ‘dog’, you can teach them action words like ‘eat,’ ‘drink’, ‘run’ and ‘give’).
Expand on what your child already knows. If your child is already using single words, you can try using two or three word sentences to show them how to expand their language (e.g. ‘mummy’s car,’ ‘drink juice,’ ‘give cup,’ ‘big brown dog’).
Avoid some baby talk. If you’d like your child to refer to a dog as a dog, you might avoid telling them that a dog is called a ‘doggy’ – they’ll just have to un-learn this later.
Repeat, repeat, repeat
New research from the University of Maryland suggests that babies benefit from hearing words repeated by their parents. Parents who repeat words over and over give their babies lots of chances to hear the word and learn what it means. “Parents who repeat words more often to their infants have children with better language skills a year and a half later,” said co-author Rochelle Newman.
2 minute video: 3 top tips for parents
Neuroscientist and Speech Pathologist Dr Martha Burns provides excellent advice on how to help your young child.
University of Maryland: UMD Research Demonstrates Benefits of Word Repetition to Infants.