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Teaching Your Baby to Speak

Q-tip

The social months from about five months old until stranger anxiety grows toward the end of the year are a great time to introduce your baby to different people: not just grownups, but other children as well. Take your baby out for visits and playdates, or invite people into your home. Before long, you may even be able to teach her to wave bye-bye.

Your baby's repertoire of sounds and syllables starts to expand between now and her first birthday. Over the next few months, she'll slowly begin adding consonants, beginning with the explosives P and B and the humming M. The combinations of vowels and consonants will, for the first time, make it sound as though your baby is talking to you. She may sound, for example, as though she's saying, "Maaaamaaaa, Maaamaaa" and "Paapaa, Paapaa." But don't kid yourself. Your baby's not calling you by name just yet. These words mean just as much (or as little) to her as "Baaabaaa, Baaabaaa." At this stage, she's just having fun making noise.

By five or six months, your baby will string sounds together in a meaningless yet always sweet-sounding babble. This babble serves as good practice for later conversations. By six months, your baby will probably want to practice her new "language" skills with anyone who's willing to listen. Six months is a very social age. Your child will most likely welcome the company of others and will start talking (saying gaga or baba) to almost anyone.

Can We Talk?

As soon as your baby starts making vowel sounds, he starts to consider himself a real conversationalist. It hardly matters that you can't understand him and he can't understand you. (After all, the same is true of many conversations between adults.) Your baby wants to talk to you the same way he's heard you talk to others.

You may be surprised the first time your baby seems to wait for you to respond to his babbling. It seems incredible that in just six months, he's picked up the nuances of conversational style. When he starts pausing (perhaps to make sure you're listening), you can have an entire babbling conversation. First your baby talks and you listen; then he knows it's his turn to listen and your turn to talk. Indeed, because he stops to listen when you talk, you may find your infant much more civil than many adult conversationalists.

Q-tip

Imitate and echo your baby a lot during the next few months. Before long, your baby will begin to mimic and echo you, too. Okay, so he'll probably do that even if you don't imitate him, but in the meantime you'll both have fun babbling, and your baby will enjoy these conversations with you.

When your baby tries to have a "conversation" with you, be polite. Respond to your baby as you would to any adult who started to talk to you. Stop what you're doing (at least some of the time) and engage in face-to-face conversation. Listen to his babbling. When your baby pauses, he's probably waiting for your reply. (You may even hear his voice rise just before he pauses, as if he were asking you a question.) You can respond using real words, or you can echo your baby's sounds. As soon as you stop talking, your baby may start up again, trying to keep the conversation going.

Talking to your baby is not only polite; it speeds up your child's learning process. In general, the more you talk, the more your baby will try to talk. When your baby starts babbling conversations with you, at least initially, he's getting some social practice. But in the coming months, your conversations will become a tool for your baby to learn more complex sounds. Talk a lot to your baby if you can, but don't monopolize the conversation. Remember to give your infant a chance to talk while you listen.



More on: Babies

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Bringing Up Baby © 1997 by Kevin Osborn. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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