Teaching Your Baby to Speak
Watch Your Language
Get in the habit of providing your baby with a narrative of your life together even before she can understand any of what you're saying. Whenever she's alert, tell her what you are doing. "Okay, I'm going to change your diaper now. First we have to take off your pants..."
Also describe to her what she is doing. "Look at you! Holding that rattle all by yourself. Can you shake it and make a sound? Good!" Your talking will hold your baby's interest, help her polish her social skills, and lay the groundwork for learning words.
What's the best way to talk to your baby? Let's start with a basic guideline: Try not to feel too silly talking to her. Even though your baby can't understand your vocabulary, she's beginning to understand the conversational process. The more you talk with her, the more she learns.
Feel free to talk to your baby in the same high-pitched, sing-song voice that parents have used with infants for centuries. Infants respond better to higher pitched sounds, so using a high voice will more readily capture your baby's attention.
Talk naturally. You don't need to simplify your words or grammar for your baby's sake. Remember, no matter how much you simplify your language, your baby doesn't understand what you're saying (at least not until around the sixth month). Your baby is not listening to you because she's fascinated by your ideas or your stories. She listens because she's fascinated by anything you do. Your baby just loves to interact with you. She could care less whether you're talking about the weather, your chores, or the thermodynamics of nuclear fusion.
Don't expend a lot of time and energy trying to understand what your baby is saying. She's probably not saying anything yet. (Real words don't usually come until around the first birthday.) For now, she's just trying to make sounds with her mouth and be sociable-just the way she has seen you do it.
By the end of the sixth month, long before she utters her first word, your baby begins to understand a few simple things that you say. So now's the perfect time to start providing a blow-by-blow of your life with baby. In addition to describing what you are doing (or she is doing), point out objects as you name them. Concentrate on immediate sights and sounds. The more you talk to your baby about the here and now and focus on the moment and describe what's there or what's going on, the easier it will be for her to make connections between the sights and sounds and tastes she perceives and the words you attach to them.
If you like children's music, you can choose from a huge selection of children's tapes and CDs. Most are well worth the investment. As long as the CD or tape features songs with a simple, catchy melody and easy or silly lyrics, your child will enjoy listening to it over and over again. Some favorite recording artists for young children (including infants) are Raffi, Barney, the music of Sesame Street, Tom Paxton, Joanie Bartels, and Peter, Paul, and Mary.
From six months (or even earlier) to a year, speak slowly and clearly to give your child a better chance to understand and distinguish individual words. Emphasize important words, especially nouns (person, place, or thing), through vocal stresses and frequent repetition. If you stress the same nouns often enough, your child will soon understand that these sounds she keeps hearing are the names of the things in her world: bottle, diaper, mama, dada. (Even if she doesn't understand their naming function, your baby will at least begin to associate the names with the objects.)
Same Old Song and Dance
Although conversation with you should provide the bulk of your child's pre-verbal language learning, other avenues can teach your baby about language. Like all learning tools for infants (and toddlers and preschoolers, too), the ones that teach language best are those that encourage your child to have fun learning:
Start your child on the road to reading early. Get your baby books of his very own that he can read with you or play with by himself. But at this age, avoid books with paper pages. Your child will not just "read" his books, but will pull on them, tear at them, chew on them, throw them, and drop them.
Sturdy board books, with pages made of thick cardboard, hold up well. So do bath books with pages made of padded vinyl or plastic. Cloth books will probably survive your child's infancy, and texture books like Pat the Bunny will get a lot of use before your child manages to rip out all the pages.
- Songs. Whether it's a bathtub song that you sing while washing up, a diaper-changing song that you've invented, silly sing-along songs by the likes of Raffi or Tom Paxton, "circle time" songs that encourage activity, or soft-sung lullabies at bedtime, your child will love it if you sing to him. The rhythms and melody of music may also facilitate language learning. A year from now, your baby's first extended strings of words may be those he's learned from listening to songs.
If you do buy commercial children's music, don't let the tapes or CDs do all the work. Your child will respond much more readily to you singing along with taped music than he will to a disembodied voice through a speaker. So listen to the music with your child and work on memorizing the lyrics so that you can sing along, or sing your baby's favorite songs on your own when the tape deck or CD player is not available.
- Nursery rhymes. Read or recite nursery rhymes often. Repeat the same rhymes over and over again. Your baby will not mind the repetition (although you may tire of it). In fact, your baby will appreciate the familiarity of favorite pieces. At this age, he learns more from the repetition of a half-dozen or dozen well-chosen rhymes than he would from hearing 300 different rhymes with no reruns. With repeated hearings, your baby will start to pick out different words, if not to speak, at least to understand.
Beginning around your baby's half-birthday, he will especially love nursery rhymes and songs that involve activity: bouncing on your knee (This Is the Way the Gentleman Rides and others), clapping, and finger play (Pat-a-Cake). Later in the year, when he begins standing up, he will also enjoy rhymes and songs that involve standing up and sitting down (Ring Around the Rosy, London Bridge, and the like).
- Books. Even at this early age, many children appreciate the worlds that books open up to them. In buying or borrowing books before your baby's first birthday, pick ones that feature just one colorful illustration of a single object per page. Busy pages that depict full scenes with painstaking detail may be more interesting to you, but they will confuse your baby, who won't know what to look at.
Reading, singing songs, and reciting nursery rhymes can all encourage the development of your infant's language and communication skills. But the main appeal of these activities to your baby is the sound of your voice and the loving attention you give him.
More on: Babies
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.
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