Your Baby's First Words

Language Development: No More Baby Talk


Picture books and simple storybooks can also help increase your toddler's vocabulary and understanding of language.

If you want to help your one-year-old begin to master the nuances of a difficult language and learn to speak, you really have to do only two things: talk to your child and listen to him.

First, talk to your child one-on-one. He will learn much more from direct conversation than he will by trying to follow a conversation that doesn't include him.

Because your baby knows you best, he will learn language more quickly from you, his primary caretaker(s), than from anyone else. He's learned to recognize the way you speak: your tones, your inflections, and your facial expressions. So talk naturally and clearly around your child and to your child.

Your baby also will need your help as a translator. This means more than just telling others what he said; it means telling him what someone else is saying. Certainly you will understand his fledgling attempts to verbalize better than anyone else. But remember too, that your child will understand your speech much better than that of others. So help interpret what other people try to tell your child.

When you talk to your one-year-old, stick to the present as much as possible. Your baby's memory is not yet his strong suit. In fact, your one-year-old has little or no ability to understand the concept of either the past or the future. Talking about what's happening right now ("Wow! An airplane. Look up in the sky, Sam. It's an airplane.") allows your child to form meaningful connections between what he's seeing, hearing, or touching and what you're saying. Making connections between words and simultaneous perceptions or actions will give your baby a deeper understanding of language.

Make a point of referring to things by their names as often as possible. Use nouns (bottle, car, mama, daddy, doll, cup, nose) and try to avoid the use of pronouns. The indefinite and continually changing meaning of a pronoun confuses infants. "It" is probably one of the most used words in the English language, but think of what must be going through your one-year-old's brain as he struggles to understand what that pronoun means: Hmmm, "it" means a ball now; but a minute ago "it" meant the spoon; and two minutes ago, "it" meant a rattle. Or "they" are the books, but I thought "they" were 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. And "you" also means your partner, because your child overheard you talking to your partner by that name earlier. (This confusion may become apparent when your child actually starts using these pronouns. Many toddlers reverse the two terms, speaking of their things as "yours" and your things as "my" or "mine.")

So use nouns and names instead of pronouns. "Mama's looking for Ian's spoon" will mean much more to your child than "Where is it?" or even "Where is your spoon?" Talk in full sentences and your child will pick out the sounds he hears again and again: "How's Mikey's diaper? Is the diaper wet?" "Oh, your diaper is smelly!" "Time to change Mikey's diaper." "Now Daddy will take off the diaper." "Here's a new diaper." "Let's put on your diaper." "Now your diaper is all clean and snug." If he hears a word 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.

More on: Babies

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Parenting a Preschooler and Toddler, Too © 1997 by Keith M. Boyd, M.D., and 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 Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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