Teaching your child how to speak starts from day one when they are just a baby and many months of saying their first word.
It’s never too early to get into good practices to help encourage your baby’s speech.
What you start doing now can be continued beyond their first year and right up to when they start school.
It’s been proven that a child who is given a great start to speech and language will go on to do well across a range of subjects, including maths.
Chatting to your baby when they are under one helps them understand the world around them and develop vital social skills.
The key tip is to talk to your baby as much as possible. Chat away to them as much as you can, about anything and everything!
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So, how can you help your baby with their speech and language right now? Here are some top tips:
Explain what you are doing
No matter how mundane the activity, tell your baby all about it. Explain what you are doing step-by-step when changing their nappy or clothes.
Chat to your baby about the food you are cooking and the different ingredients. As part of this it’s also great to show your baby the things you are talking about individually as you go about your business.
Show them the ingredients you are cooking with (and let them hold them or touch them) and repeat the name of it again and again.
When your baby is playing with a toy, speak about what they are doing. It may be boring for you, but repeat key phrases describing what they are doing.
You could also try making up little songs that explain what your are doing. I had a silly nappy changing song I sang to my kids when they were tiny.
Chat about your day
Talk about everything that’s on your mind. If you’ve been at work, then discuss what you did at work.
Your baby may not understand a word at all, but you are exposing them to words, tone and social nuances that are valuable to learning language.
You don’t need to dumb down your language
The temptation is to make every sentence you say into baby talk.
It certainly does not hinder your baby’s language development, so don’t worry too much about calling shoes “shoes-y woosies” or any other silly little turns of phrase you may have.
Some research has suggested that baby talk may not be as good for your baby as normal speech, because you do not enunciate as clearly when doing this.
I suggest a mixture of the two is absolutely fine. The temptation may be to stick with baby talk because it engages your baby more (probably because you adopt a fun tone of voice when doing it).
Don’t feel like you have to make everything you say into baby talk just so that your baby can understand you. You’ll be amazed at how much of what your saying makes a real difference to their brain development.
You can just chat to your baby in the same way you would anyone else (maybe without any swearing though).
Silly games with a lot of repetition are also great for your baby’s language. The rhythm of the words and the fun of the game will hold their attention, and they will also learn to associate words with the actions you are doing.
Good games for this include “Round and Round the Garden”, “Peek A Boo” and “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”.
As your baby gets older, you’ll see they may start to adopt the physical actions that go with the rhymes and they recognise the words that go with the actions.
Use a happy and bright tone
You’re not going to be feeling super chirpy every single day. This is especially true if you are getting hardly any sleep.
But when you can, try using a bright and happy tone with your baby. You will find using a sing-song type voice will be very engaging to your baby and you will be able to hold their attention for much longer.
Read books at every opportunity
Reading books to your baby is such an important part of their language development.
It also helps you to forge a stronger bond with your baby.
Reading doesn’t just have to be at bedtime. It’s also a great way to pass the time in the day when you’re at home with your baby.
If you struggle to find time during the day to read books, have reading be a part of your daily bedtime routine.
For my children’s bedtime, we always read at least three bedtime books (baby books are quite short) before they went to bed.
These days they sometimes get five or six books before being tucked in as they just love reading so much.
Most books for babies have very few words, but don’t rule out getting stories with much more words that may be more appropriate for a toddler.
If you can hold your baby’s attention, then read them longer stories as well as the books aimed at small babies.
Discuss what’s happening in pictures
Baby books generally have very few words. The idea is that you point to what is in the pictures and explain both what and who is in the pictures, as well as what is happening.
You could also try posing questions to your baby, which of course they cannot answer but you can say the answer for them.
Give them a tour
Walk around your home and garden explaining what everything is and showing your baby how it all works.
Be repetitive with this and do it as often as possible.
This is a great way to teach your baby about objects around the home.
You can also try emptying out your cutlery drawer and teaching them about spoons, forks and knives.
This is a simple, and cheap, way to teach your baby about household objects.
Go for walks
Get out of the house and give your baby a full sensory experience of the world around them.
Let them touch leaves and the grass and explain to them what everything is.
When you take your baby to the park, or let them sit in a sandpit, explain to them what it is they are doing.
Teach your child nursery rhymes
Researchers at Cambridge University found that babies learn well when their brain waves are in sync with their mama.
This happens best when mama is doing things such as singing nursery rhymes while making good eye contact with her baby.
Victoria Leong, who led the research, said: ”The baby brain is set to respond to motherese (the soothing sing-song voice associated with baby talk), which is why it is such an effective vehicle for teaching babies about new information.”
Repeat your baby’s noises back to them
When your baby begins making “ba-ba”, “da-da” and “ma-ma” noises, repeat them back to your baby.
This is the very first two-way conversation you will have with your baby. Even though it makes no sense now, you are teaching your baby about taking turns in a conversation.
By responding to their sounds, you are also encouraging them to keep speaking up and practicing their words.
Don’t use a dummy too frequently
Use of a dummy all day every day means that your baby gets no opportunity to practice making the noises and sounds that will eventually develop into words.
Try to only use the dummy when trying to settle baby for sleep.
Let your baby make the loud squarks, squeaks and shouts. These are the very earliest forms of language that your baby will attempt.
It’s also important for your baby’s vocal cords to get some exercise and be used regularly through the day.
When to be worried about your baby’s language
All babies develop at their own rate. Most babies will be saying their first words by 18 months.
If your baby is not babbling to communicate with you by 12 to 15 months, you should speak to your GP who can help you get further help from a speech and language therapist.
It really is best to get this type of help early. Try not to panic, as many babies will respond when they get a little extra help.