Your child’s language development: Part 1

Language development skills from day one.

Your baby begins communicating with you at birth. This communication begins with crying, fussing and eye contact. Michigan State University Extension says that as babies grow older they make several major steps toward learning to talk around eight to 14 months old. For the first time their communication is intentional. They finally realize they can get you to do things if they “tell” you.

Gestures will become very important. Your baby will reach or point for several reasons. They might try to get your attention so that you’ll play with them. They might need something. They might point to their bottle and grunt as if to say “I’m thirsty.” Also, they might want to show you something that they think is interesting, such as their ball. During this time they will also continue to babble, but it will be more varied and will include more sounds. It will eventually become unintelligible language or jargon, as it takes on inflections and tone patterns that sound like real speech. However, you may not be able to understand a word of it.

A little later, real words will sometimes be mixed in. Whether there are real words or not, it is important to answer as if you understand. Try to figure out what your child is trying to say to you. This encourages them to continue talking. They will learn that communicating is necessary to get their needs met and that communicating is fun.

Before the age of two, the best way to determine if your child is developing language skills is by what they understand, not by what they say. Understanding words is receptive language. By their first birthday your child will probably understand about a dozen words and a few simple instructions. Around 14 or 15 months they will understand as many as 40 words. Starting at birth, by talking to your child every day you are helping them learn the meaning of words. They will need to hear the words over and over again in varying tones and sentences and with different facial expressions and body language. You can watch for signs that your child is beginning to understand when you are talking to them. Gather several familiar items and ask them to pick up a certain one. For example, get your shoe or get the ball. Also, label your child’s world. Please your child in front of a mirror and point to their nose and tell them “nose” then touch your nose and say “Mommy’s nose.” Continue to label items in your home and the people they interact with. Your child will understand more words than they can say.

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