WHEN SHOULD YOUR BABY START TALKING

For months, in my family, silence was an enemy.
No matter how hard my wife and I tried, no
matter how much we read to and blabbed at our
baby daughter, the kid wouldn’t speak a lick.
Sure, she smiled and giggled when we acted
goofily. And yes, she grabbed her stuffed walrus
when we asked her to. Brain cells were clearly
functioning correctly. But for months there
simply were no words.
Maybe we were a bit neurotic. Around the baby’s
10-month mark, we were vexed; by 12 months,
we became concerned. We were about to
contact our pediatrician when the baby let out a
loud “Mama.” She hasn’t stopped talking since.
All that worrying! All those nights hunched over
books about what to expect! Our Type-A panic
was all for naught.
The truth is that helping our babies acquire
language skills may be easier and more natural
than we think, so say many speech pathologists
and child psychologists. It turns out, those of us
who have called this process “learning to talk”
have had it all wrong; the art of communication
is much broader than our babies acquiring new
words and regurgitating them upon command. It
requires a positive environment that fosters
trust and celebrates success. It requires
repetition. Most important, at least to Larry
Gray M.D., assistant professor of developmental
and behavioral pediatrics at the University of
Chicago Medical Center , it requires fun.
“No matter what kind of expert you ask, the
current thinking is this: Present parents who
interact with their babies help create kids who’ll
succeed,” says Dr. Gray. In other words, as long
as you talk to your kids and keep them
interested, you can’t go wrong. Here are four
steps to help you be a present parent who
rocks:
Conversation Starters
It’s never too early to instill a love for language;
just ask Alice Finch of Seattle. Just after Finch’s
first son was born, she and her husband engaged
the boy nonstop, even going so far as to create
a series of fabric books to spark an interest in
words. The strategy worked wonders, and the
baby said his first words at about 6 months old.
“Tremendous brain growth is happening from
day one,” Finch says. “I knew from the beginning
I was going to provide lots of opportunities for
exposing my kids to the details of life.”
The truth is Finch’s son likely started learning
language even before these tactical forays into
language immersion. Recent research out of the
University of Amsterdam indicates that most
kids start acquiring rudimentary language skills
(such as cadence and beat) while they’re still in
the womb. After birth, though communication
skills may not “click” immediately, rest assured:
Those baby-brain synapses are firing. Babies can
take weeks to assimilate words they hear every
day—often giving us parents no clues there’s
learning going on behind the scenes, says Kathy
Hirsh-Pasek Ph.D., a director of the Temple
University Infant Laboratory in Ambler,
Pennsylvania. “From day one, babies are hearing
information, so they can later compute the
frequencies of what they hear and figure out
how words and phrases and sentences fit
together,” Hirsh-Pasek quips. “They’re
constantly constructing how language works.”
what you can do
Remember there’s no such thing as too much
exposure to language during your child’s earliest
stages. Talk often. Get creative (like Finch’s
fabric books). Be patient if all you hear at first
are crickets.
Total Exposure
Over time, the more words your child hears, the
better. The Finches made a concerted effort to
talk to their son as much as possible. For Kevin
and Libby Frank of Cincinnati, the strategy with
their firstborn was much more free-form. Sure,
the couple tried quizzing the baby on certain key
words. Ultimately, however, Libby says her
daughter learned best through repetition. “One
day after I got cut off in traffic, I heard this
little voice from the backseat say, ‘num-nuts!’
and I knew something was working,” Libby
remembers.
Experts say the “how” of language exposure
doesn’t matter as much as exposure itself. The
seminal study on this topic, the 1995 book
Meaningful Differences in the Everyday
Experience of Young American Children ,
correlated the number of words a child hears by
age 3 to that child’s success later in life.
Modern experts agree that the more words our
children hear as their brains develop most
significantly, the better.
what you can do
This isn’t as hard as you might think. One great
way to achieve this goal is by using “self-talk,”
the clinical term for a play-by-play of one’s day-
to-day activities, says Dr. Gray. “Imagine
yourself as a radio announcer broadcasting
details of your world to the most important
listener of all,” he says. Dr. Gray adds that while
the approach feels very awkward at first and you
may feel kind of silly, parents end up sharing
thousands of words an hour and “can turn the
routine into a fun, language-based learning
experience.”
Make Conversation
Words, however, can’t exist in a vacuum. Think
of language skills like a garden; the more they
blossom, the more they must be nurtured. This
means consistent interactions as your child gets
older. Just because your kid appears to be
getting the hang of things doesn’t mean you can
spend more time on your cell phone or on
Facebook (or both). Now’s the time to
emphasize the give-and-take nature of
conversation: talking and listening.
Such is life for Dan and Susan Twetten of
Chicago. Dan, an attorney, says he and his wife
strived to embrace language-oriented activities
to share with their daughter, including
conversations and responsive readings or
singalongs. That Susan stayed home with the
baby made it easy to weave these activities into
a daily routine—one that to this day comprises
interactive language games designed to spark
learning. “Our methodology, if you’d call it that,
was to just stay involved,” Dan says, noting that
the real language explosion happened between
20 and 24 months. “I know there are a lot of
different theories on the subject of language
acquisition, but it all seemed pretty
straightforward to us.”
what you can do
First, when speaking to your child, allow for a
response, even if he isn’t old or verbal enough
to give one. Second, be patient. If your child
misidentifies certain colors or objects, be sure
to acknowledge the effort in and of itself. Finally,
turn off the television. Janice Im, senior director
of programs for Zero to Three, a nonprofit in
Washington, D.C., says even “educational”
programs are no substitute for face-to-face,
one-on-one interactions.
For parents without the luxury of staying home,
many child-care facilities embrace similar tactics
and plan curriculum around them. At KinderCare
Learning Centers, the nation’s largest early-
childhood education and care provider, for
instance, educators emphasize reading, sing-
alongs and word games such as rhyming and
poetry. “It’s all about creating an environment
where language becomes part of a bigger and
broader context,” says Linda Nelson, a senior
curriculum developer for the company’s
education department. “We all began to learn
what we know about conversation at an early
age.”
Success = Party Time
Of course, understanding comes most easily
when it’s fun and rewarding. When our daughter
picks up new words and phrases, we clap like
cheerleaders and chant her two-syllable name as
if she’s playing shortstop for the San Francisco
Giants. We try to reinforce vocabulary
development by singing duets where we take
turns filling in appropriate words. For instance, a
current favorite is “Clementine.” I sing, “Oh my”
and she adds “darling,” then I sing, “Oh my
darling,” and she finishes with “Clementine.”
what you can do
Dance a jig the first time your baby strings
together two or three words. Ask open-ended
questions such as “What do you see in this
picture?” Be sure to allow time for your baby to
respond in her own way. Perhaps most
importantly, engage your child and look him in
the eye when speaking to him. “The more direct
one-on-one interactions you can have, the
happier and more engaged your baby is going to
be,” says Nancy Tarshis, a speech and language
expert at the Children’s Evaluation and
Rehabilitation Center in New York. “Become
excited but also reinforce what they say by
responding contingently, either by getting them
what they are requesting or by making a very
related, relevant comment.”
In most cases, these steps should lead to (lots
of) talking. And as a parent who has worried
about his child’s language acquisition from the
very beginning, I can attest: Silence is totally
overrated.
Look who’s talking
Though every baby is different, there’s a
predictable progression to his language skills.
Here’s a look at what to expect when.
0 to 4 months
Mostly cooing and gurgling sounds; children
mimic certain noises and are particularly
interested in the pitch and level of your voice.
4 to 7 months
Babbling at first; sounds like B, D and M are
evident.
7 to 12 months
Sounds diversify into grunts and squeals; first
words usually emerge around baby’s first
birthday.
12 to 18 months
Vocabulary grows exponentially; multiple- word
combinations are not unusual.
18 to 30 months
Small phrases, sentences and more.
still waiting?
If by 18 months your child isn’t speaking at
least 15 words, contact your pediatrician. Don’t
write it off as a phase. The sooner you have the
child evaluated for speech pathologies, the
sooner you can help reverse the situation if
something is awry—which isn’t always the case.
Every baby develops at his own pace. Contact
the American Speech-Language-Hearing Asso-
ciation directly to locate a certified speech-
language pathologist or audiologist and set up a
formal screening. Visit asha.org for more
information.
By:Matt villianoo

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *