Your baby begins to communicate with you from a very early stage. Eye contact, tone and facial expression are the first lessons you will teach your child about language and communication. As your baby develops, they will begin to make sounds themselves. This ‘babbling’ phase is where they being making sounds such as ‘ooooh’ or ‘arrrr’. Interestingly, this phase of making sounds is referred to as the ‘vowel’ stage of your baby’s language development. That is because the sounds they make are commonly made up of the sound of vowels – a, e, i, o and u. In the animal world, animals do not progress beyond the ability to make vowel sounds, explaining why human communication is so much more sophisticated. As humans, we develop beyond the vowel sounds stage with our ability to use consonants.
Encouraging your baby’s language skills will help your baby to develop and learn. If your baby ‘ooohhs’ at you, then you should repeat the sound back. This serves two purposes; firstly, it lets you baby hear the sound that they made and what it sounds like. Secondly, it helps them to learn the basic principles of conversation, that is, say something, listen for response, say something further or in simple terms, the ‘turn taking’ rhythm of conversation.
When your baby progresses to using consonants and trying to say words, there are some key techniques that you can use to help to expand their language. Firstly, reflect back what you have heard and if necessary, correctly pronounce the word too. For example, if your child points to a glass of water and says ‘wahwa’, you can reflect back the correct word by saying “Water. Good boy/girl. Water”. You can develop their language further by adding words to the word that they have said to demonstrate the concept of adding words together to form sentences. For example, if the water was in a beaker, you could say “water. The water is in the beaker” and so on. This can be expanded further to build conversation “do you want a drink of water?” – teaching your baby more about language, structure and conversation.
As children grow to the toddler stage, their language development can progress at a very quick pace. You can support the development of language skills by adding action or description words wherever possible. Firstly, listen carefully to what your child says. Acknowledge what they have said by reflecting back to the child, then add words to further describe the word or the actions of the word. For example:
Parent Boat. A blue boat.
Toddler Blue boat.
Parent Very good, it is a blue boat. The blue boat is in the water.
Books are an excellent way of supporting this type of play and encouraging your child’s language and communication skills. So remember the key points; reflect back what has been said, add descriptive or action words where possible, listen to what your child has to say, reflect back adding new words wherever you can.