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Language Development in Infants
Infants begin communicating with their world immediately. In the first few days, weeks and months of life, babies learn different cries to show different needs, they learn some early sounds and how to make eye contact with their parents and caregivers.
These early social and language skills will continue to develop throughout the first year in many ways. Although language development is a natural occurring process, it’s important to know all of the ways that babies are learning to talk in this first year of life.
Games that encourage babies to make sounds or silly faces back and forth with an adult teaches little ones the social aspect of language development. Infants need to learn that in natural conversations, I say something, then you say something, and then I say something again. After learning eye contact, this is one of the most important social skills that your young baby can learn. In the first few months, babies do not understand taking turns, so parents naturally fill the pauses babies make on their own with sounds or words. By 4-6 months, babies have learned this more interactive way to play and communicate, and will either start to initiate turn taking games with you or wait until daddy has stopped talking before babbling. When your baby makes a silly face or string of sounds to you, wait for her to finish and then make the same sounds back to her, and see if she will make the sounds again. Keep the conversation going! [EXAMPLES OF INTERACTIVE GAMES/SONGS]
Practicing verbal sounds:
A verbal sound is any vowel or consonant sound that will eventually turn into part of a word. In the first 4 months, babies mostly breathe through their noses, allowing them to suck at the breast or bottle easily, and you usually only hear open vowel sounds like “ooohhhs” and “aaaahhhhs.” This cooing starts to change to babbling after 6 months, when babies gain better control of their oral breathing and the muscles around their mouth. Babbling [LINK TO BABBLE] consists of the same consonant sound being made over and over again, and can use intonation [LINK TO BABBLE WITH INNOTATION] just like adult conversations. The first four consonant sounds that all babies make, regardless of the language spoken in the home, are B (baba), D (dada), M (mama) and P (papa) because they are the easiest for little ones to make with the front of their mouth. These are the only sounds that we expect babies to make in the first year, so enjoy all of the “mamamama’s” that you are getting now, and we will focus on more fun sounds later on.
Practicing non-verbal sounds:
While sounds like “babababa” will eventually turn into words like “bubble” and “ball,” sounds like tongue clicks, coughs, screeches or raspberries don’t usually turn into labels. However, these non-verbal sounds are just as important for babies to practice in the first year. Just as they are working on their consonant sounds, babies are learning everything about their mouth and their own voice. Infants love to practice their pitch and volume, how air pushes out of their cheeks, the sounds that they can make with their tongue and the way their throat vibrates when they pretend to cough. Encouraging these silly sounds the same way that you encourage their other sounds will continue to build the muscles in and around your baby’s mouth. So don’t worry if your 7 month old smiles and screeches at the top of his lungs, and just remember that he is supposed to practicing with his voice, even in a fancy restaurant. [BABY MEEM ABOUT SPITTING FACE]
Before your baby girl will ever be able to say “dog,” she needs to know what a dog actually is and be able to identify one. This aspect of language is receptive language, or understanding. The first words that infants usually learn are their own name, the names of people in their home and the word ‘no.’ By their first birthday, most babies have a vocabulary of 100 words or more that they understand. Keeping your language simple in the first year and using short phrases will make it easier for baby to understand what you are trying to say. A 9 month old will start to wave when you say “buh-bye,” or start to clap when she hears “Pat-a-cake.” These verbal cues that babies learn are the very first directions that they learn to follow and also indicate cognitive readiness for sign language [link to sign language] which is a great tool for pre-verbal communication. So ask your little one where her Daddy is and see where she looks, or open a book with simple pictures and ask her to point to the ball.
Kim Bennett, MSed CEIS
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