Language learning for babies begins in the womb. From about mid-way through your pregnancy, your baby will begin to hear and recognise the rhythms and tones of your voice. A little later, he/she may be able to recognise your partner or close family members. Your voice will be soothing to your baby, a comfort which will continue when your baby is born. The more you talk to your baby when pregnant, the more familiar he/she will become with your voice and therefore the language you are speaking. Reading to your baby whilst pregnant is excellent for developing your baby’s language skills as you often tend to read with my varying tones and pitches, making it easier for your baby to identify different sounds. The same goes for listening to music.
When your baby is born, it may seem pointless to talk to him/her as he/she won’t understand what you are saying or respond to it. However, without you knowing, when you talk to your newborn, they will be beginning to pick up on your use of language. They will learn to be soothed by your voice and as they get a bit older, they will learn very quickly what the word ‘no’ means! If you stimulate your baby by talking, reading and singing to him/her you will be offering a pattern for them to copy, thus meaning that after a lot of practise, they will be able to pick up the pattern for themselves.
Babies begin to learn language for themselves by making different sounds. They will begin to growl and coo and even giggle by the age of about 2-3 months. If you repeat their sound back to them, it often encourages them to repeat it back to you. Here they are learning that language is a means of communication. If you talk to your baby often, you will notice him/her trying to move their mouth as if to try and mimic the sounds you make. I love it when my little girl does this as it makes me feel like she’s really clever! Her language is much more exciting than mine so we often have minute long conversations made up of just noises.
When your baby is beginning to make his/her own noises, make sure that when you are talking, you allow time for them to respond. Babies who get talked at may learn to mimic sounds but don’t have an understanding that talking is a 2-way thing.
Reading to your baby frequently will help him/her to learn language quicker. The variation in tone and pitch of your voice makes it easier for him/her to distinguish between different sounds, making them easier to copy.
From about 6 months old is a good time to start teaching your baby specific words such as ‘mama’ and ‘dada.’ Repeat the words to your baby several times, making sure they can see the movement of your mouth. Praise any attempts they make at copying, even if it sounds nothing like the word! Think about teaching your baby just a few simple words first, don’t bombard him/her with too many complex sounds.