How to develop your baby’s speech and language

Did you know that your baby’s speech and language development starts long before he begins to speak? Your baby starts to hear in the womb from around 18 weeks! And can even respond to different noises from 25-26 weeks!

“Baby may only say his first word at around 12 months. But, from the moment he is born (and even before) he is learning large amounts of language and pre-verbal communication skills,” says Savannah Senior, Speech-Language Pathologist and Clamber Club Expert.

“Pre-verbal communication skills are the behaviours that your baby will intentionally use to communicate. These behavious do not involve words and sentences,” explains Senior. In order to understand pre-verbal skills, it is important to understand that communication is not only verbal.

Communication involves:
  • Eye contact
  • Gestures
  • Turn taking
  • Vocalisations
  • Facial expressions and much more

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There is a strong link between delayed pre-verbal skills and delayed linguistic communication. Which is why it’s important to help promote the development of these pre-verbal communication skills.

Preverbal communication skills include, but are not limited to:
  • Infant-caregiver interaction and attachment (the bond between the infant and the caregiver)
  • Play
  • Pragmatics, which is the ability to use communication in a social context as well as the understanding of social conversational norms. Gestures and facial expressions. Imitation and joint attention; the ability to attend to an object or activity with someone.

Language development begins with your baby learning about the sounds in his environment… When to respond, how to localise them, which ones are familiar and what different sounds mean.

0-3 Months

At 0-3 months, baby will use crying as an indicator that he is hungry, in pain or uncomfortable. He will begin to make eye contact for short periods of time.

4-6 Months

At 4-6 months, baby will actively attempt to make sounds through motor movements, such as kicking or flapping his arms. Instead of cries, he will use vocalisations more often as a form of communication. He will also begin to laugh.

7-10 Months

At 7-10 months, baby will recognise his own name consistently. He will also begin to understand words, simple questions and basic instructions. He will even listen when you say ‘no!’

10-12 Months

Between 10 and 12 months, your baby will love learning new words, talking to toys and objects, imitating sounds and actions and might even say his first word!

“The first year of life is filled with communication. It is important to recognise and respond to your baby’s communication cues. You can also promote as much language development as possible,” advises Savannah.

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Tips and ideas to promote language development
    • Encourage babbling. Have a `conversation’ with your baby. Give him time to respond to what you have said, take turns, ask questions and have fun!
    • Sing, sing and sing again.
    • Read books and show your baby pictures. This is important to help improve his attention and vocabulary. As he gets older, ask him to point to different pictures in the book. It is okay to read the same books over and over again! And remember not to rush through them.
    • Speak in short sentences, using 4-7 words at a time to keep your baby’s attention.
    • Commentate. Describe things that you see, activities that you do, sounds that you hear and smells in the environment. Talk to him while you are changing him, bathing him, cooking dinner, eating with him and walking in the park.
    • Imitate. Copy the sounds that he says, facial expressions that he makes and the actions that he does.
    • Encourage him to imitate you. Help him copy your actions such as waving, clapping, blowing a kiss and playing peek-a-boo by assisting his hand movements. Use words with these actions so that he learns what they mean.

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  • Pairing gestures or signs with spoken language has been seen to reduce frustration and help develop larger vocabularies.
  • Encourage eye contact by positioning your baby opposite you at eye level. As he gets older and has developed better head and neck control, you can lie on your back with your legs parallel to the ceiling. Put your baby on your legs and ‘fly’ him around like an airplane. This stimulates the vestibular system and promotes eye contact. Eye contact is an extremely important for your baby’s social communication development.
  • Organise play dates. Even though your baby isn’t yet speaking, it gives him the opportunity to interact with other babies and possibly learn from them.
  • Positive reinforcement is vital. Use positive words and phrases to congratulate your baby when he does something well. Even if he might not fully understand what you are saying, he will be able to hear your tone of voice and your gestures and associate it with happy feelings.
  • Follow your baby’s lead during play.

*You can find more excellent articles from Clamber Club here.

*To find out more about Clamber Club, click here.

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