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Babbles & Squeaks - Can you help your child learn to speak faster?Babbles & Squeaks - Can you help your child learn to speak faster?

As parents we are delirious when our little ones start communicating with us (beyond crying) - the first smile, the first laughter are a fantastic reward for all those funny faces, songs and dances, and of course when those cute babbles turn into the very first word the sleepless nights become all worth it.

Babies are born with an amazing ability: to learn any language. The more you talk to your baby, the quicker she will pick it up. Spending most of their first year listening and learning, babies typically start expressing their first words around 12 months. However, research has shown that by this time, they will in fact know hundreds of words already. I guess that doesn’t surprise you as parents; you see how much your baby understands long before she is able to tell you in words.

Recent research also highlights how important early language stimulation is for brain development and later learning. Listening to your voice, seeing your smile, and playing peek-a-boo with you, are positive early experiences for your baby that lay pathways in her brain facilitating later learning. Every (baby) step of the way, you make the difference as your little one looks, listens and copies while interacting with you.

You, Me and the ABC

As with all development, you are the most important person for your child’s learning and confidence.

Exciting research into babies’ earliest days shows that newborns cry with the ‘accent’, or melody, of their native language. They are picking it up while still in the womb, so talking to your baby makes sense – as well as provides a positive and comforting atmosphere for her.

When we talk to babies we tend to use "baby talk” or "parantese”. The higher pitch, slower pace and strong eye contact feels safe and engaging for the baby and in fact truly helps his language development. Your complete immersion in the conversation with your baby helps him pick up words and sounds.
All the chatting with your little one also teaches her from an early age about how words, sounds and emotions are used to convey meaning in different situations. As an example, she hears that her name is used very differently when she reaches out to touch something hot and when you play hide-and-seek with her. This is important learning for how language is used, and by 18 months your baby will demonstrate her understanding for this.

Experts hold that lullabies, songs and rhymes carry the 'signature' melodies and inflections of a mother tongue, preparing a child's ear, voice and brain for language. Singing simple songs is a fantastic way to interact with your little one, and it also helps with language development and learning how language is constructed.

Studies have found that already at 10 and 11 months of age, babies understand that when they follows your eyes they can see what you are talking about, creating a boost in their language. Still, until about 18 months children tend to learn words faster when we talk about and label things they are interested in (not which object we point out or would like them to learn about). After 18 months, they start paying more attention to what you’re looking at and interested in.

There is also typically a real "growth spurt” in children’s vocabulary around 18 months. Research suggests that this is a result of hearing words repeatedly over time and learning many words at the same time. Also, in any language children have more difficult (new or less used) words to learn because relatively few words are used frequently.

Background noise, even when moderate, can affect the learning of language for young children. It is very important for your child to see your face as well as hearing you speak. Remember that young children also have a very limited attention span, and so will easily switch from what’s important to what is going on in the background.

On a related note, there is research on TV and children showing that young children learn from us, not from TV characters. It may be entertaining for your child, but when under 3 years of age he will learn really well from you and very little when watching TV.

Reading with your child is one of the most enjoyable and rewarding activities you can do together, and pays off when it comes to language development. Reading picture books encourages early reading development, and the fact that you are talking around the pictures means your little one is exposed to (and learns from) more complex language than if you were reading a simple story.

Research shows that by reading to your child you will prime him for better language and literacy skills when he’s off to school. Also, as your little one grows, take reading to the next step and invite him to actively take part in describing pictures, talking about what the story means, and make connections to own experiences. This really supports language development, helps him understand about things in the world around, about emotions and about social interactions.

Practical Tips for Parents

Our practical guidance is based on science. Here are 8 useful tips you can apply today to support and encourage your child’s language development.

If and when it feels right, chat to your baby already when she is still in the womb. Language development starts here as she’s listening to you speak. From day one, your little one is learning from you, so chat away to him even before he’s talking back. Enjoy talking "parentese” with your baby; using high pitch, slow pace and strong eye contact is great for your budding little chatterbox.
  1. Sing with your little one as a fun and engaging way to interact whilst also helping with language development.
  2. Notice what your baby is interested in (especially up to 18 months) and label it; tell her what it’s called and talk about it
  3. Avoid TV and other distractions and engage completely with your baby to ensure optimal language learning. Face to face interaction with you is how your little one learns. Even if you’re not watching, if the TV is on in the background it interferes with learning.
  4. Read picture books with your child. This encourages early reading development as well as learning about the world around him.
  5. Employ an interactive style when reading; Your little one loves listening when you read, but it’s even more powerful for her to take part; this boosts language development as well as social, emotional and cognitive development.
As always, it's important to remember that your child's journey is different from that of others, and to enjoy this journey with him. You are his main teacher, and he is listening and learning more and faster than it might appear.

Please note: where health issues interfere with the child's language development, the information and tips may not always fit in the same way, but may still be helpful once the problem has been diagnosed and you are supporting their the continued journey of language development.

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