The Benefits of Talking to Your Baby

Pro Nouns, Anti Pronouns

The indefinite and continually changing meaning of pronouns confuses infants. For example, it is probably one of the most used words in the English language, but think of what must be going through your baby's brain as he struggles to understand what that pronoun means. It means a ball now, but a minute ago it meant the spoon, and two minutes ago it meant a rattle. Or they means the books now, but I thought they meant grandma and grandpa.

Personal pronouns may be even more confusing. To a listener, hearing you means me, and hearing I means you. But I also means your partner, who said it just a few minutes ago. You also means your partner because your baby overheard you talking to your partner by that name earlier. (This confusion will become more apparent next year, when your baby starts using these pronouns. Many toddlers reverse the two terms, speaking of their things as yours and your things as my or mine.)

Instead of pronouns, use nouns and names when you speak to your baby. "Mama's looking for Ian's spoon" will mean much more to your baby than "Where is it?" or even "Where is your spoon?"

Context Counts

Don't just give your baby words to parrot. Certainly, you will do no harm in holding up a ball and saying, "Ball. See the ball? This is a ball. Now say ball, sweetie." Indeed, your baby, who loves both to imitate and please you, may even say "Ba." But just because she makes the sound doesn't mean that your baby knows that ba refers to that colorful, round, bouncing thing in your hand.

Your baby will learn much more about language by associating sounds she hears many times, in a variety of contexts, with what she observes during those moments. That's why talking to your baby about the present, what you or she is doing or what she sees or hears, is so important. For example, if your baby hears the word diaper as you check it, pull the top of it away from her to take a peek at what's inside, put her on the changing table, take it off, get her a new one, put it on, and fasten it, her neurons will be firing with the connections made. Before long, she will realize that diaper refers to that thing she wears on her bottom.

Talk in full sentences to your baby and trust that she will pick out the sounds she hears again and again. If she hears it often enough, your baby will associate these sounds with whatever the occasions had in common. Remember, your baby is listening carefully to you, trying to make connections. Even before she tries to master the inflections and vocal sounds that seem to make up this appealing new language of yours, your baby will try to understand what you are saying.

Because your baby is listening so carefully to you, you owe it to her to do the same. During the babbling stage, give your baby your full attention as she chatters away. Then "answer" your baby's babble with adult language. This exchange enables your baby to initiate a "real" conversation with you to get practice in social interaction.

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.

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

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