Ahhh, the magical period where your baby’s ‘coos’ and ‘goo-gahs’ turn into words that make sense. As your baby’s vocabulary takes form, you may have spent many a sleepless night trying to be the first person to hear their precious first words. Is it ‘mama’? or is it ‘dada’? Parenting is not a competition, but hey! What’s life without a few bragging rights?
Before your baby begins to talk, they start absorbing vocabulary words and conversation skills. This happens way before they start uttering their first words. They are highly observant, mind you. So it is pretty important to create a conducive environment for your toddler to grasp things fast and to equip them with the verbal skills they require in conversation as early as possible.
But how can we do that, you ask?
Well, first, let us give you some expert tips on the matter. Afterward, the ball will be in your ballpark, do with it as you will.
Step 1: Understanding Child Language Acquisition
Being a widely accepted theory in the field of linguistics, Child Language Acquisition examines the inherent ability that a child possesses in acquiring a specific language.
The theory has proven that all healthy children acquire language quickly and easily without a load of effort or the use of formal teaching methods. It happens automatically and does not depend on whether their parents make an active effort to teach them the language or not. They are born equipped with this evolutionary ability to acquire language.
The first 36 months of your child’s life is generally considered to be the crucial period of language acquisition. You may wonder how these 36 months could be broken down. Simple, a list! We love lists here at Baccani.
So here are the six stages into which your baby’s language learning adventures could be broken down:
- Pre-talking stage / Cooing (0-6 months)
- Babbling stage (6-8 months)
- Holophrastic stage (9-18 months)
- The two-word stage (18-24 months)
- Telegraphic stage (24-30 months)
- Later multiword stage (30+months)
That’s child language acquisition, in a nutshell.
Wait, so does this mean that a parent should sit around and do nothing while their child goes about their business mastering a language?
Step 2: Creating A Conducive Environment
Although the initial stages of your child’s language acquisition do not require formal teaching by their parents or caretakers, you do have an important role to play in this regard. You should know that a child who is never spoken to would never acquire language. You should engage and talk with your baby directly. In the initial stages, if the baby is not paid enough direct attention in this regard, they will fail to develop their conversational abilities.
It has been proven that children under the age of 2, who are regularly exposed to television and radio but are not directly involved in communicating with the adults in their vicinity, fail to learn how to speak. As they are genetically programmed to acquire language through direct language communication with adults.
Children are programmed to learn language through interaction. They interact not only with their parents but other adults and also with other children. All healthy children, growing up in a typical household and surrounded by frequent conversation, will acquire the language that is constantly being used around them.
Miraculously, children are also equipped to acquire two or more languages simultaneously as long as they have regular interactions with speakers of those languages. This is extremely difficult for an adult to do, but hey! That’s why we say that children are indeed a miracle.
Step 3: Teaching Your Baby How To Converse
Before they can start speaking fluently, your baby should learn how conversation works. Here are some tips that you can try with your little ones to improve their grasp of conversation.
- Pause – Be mindful of pausing when you speak to your baby. Leave little gaps in the middle of your sentences when you want them to respond or when they attempt to talk back to you.
- Copy – Once your little one starts making sounds, encourage them to keep doing that by repeating their sound and making similar sounds. This is a suitable method of providing positive reinforcement for your baby early on and helps them understand the basic concepts of conversation.
- Tonality – Remember that your tone is important. You should be mindful to adjust your vocal tone depending on the nature of the conversation. Speak with emphasis on important words, and adjust your volume depending on the topic.
(Speak louder on an exciting topic, use a soft tone when describing something scary and so on)
Step 4: Building Your Child’s Vocabulary
Until your baby reaches a certain age, their vocabulary will be limited to a small number of words. Their vocabulary will expand through the years, and you have to be patient with them. Well, to be honest, you don’t need to practice patience because your child learning how to talk would be one of the cutest and most exciting things in the world.
However, you have to remember that each child is different, and their vocabulary develops at a different pace. Just because the neighbourhood kid started talking earlier, do not worry. Allow your baby to take it at their own pace and comfort. Also, what you can do is support your baby to develop an expansive vocabulary that covers a wide range of expression and conversation.
Here are a few things that you as a parent can do:
- Read With Your Baby – One of the best methods to develop vocabulary is reading together with your child. Picture books are a great way to start. The concept of a picture book is based on labelling. Labelling each picture to its meaning will result in vocabulary growth. It is easier for a toddler to recognize familiar things like body parts, nature words, and animals. Reading together would also contribute to the development of your baby’s curiosity and inquisitiveness.
- Do Not Hesitate To Use Big Words – Respect your baby’s intelligence. Plain and simple. Some parents share the attitude that they should only use small words that their baby can understand. And our thoughts on that? No, just no. Don’t do it. Remember that every word is a new word to them. ‘Dumbing down’ your vocabulary would only hinder their growth. Instead, encourage your little one to ask for the meaning of words that they do not understand. When they are a bit older, you can do a fun exercise where you ask your child to use the new word they learned later in a sentence.
- Play Cognitive Games – Playing games like treasure hunts, Name the Thing, Simon Says aid in language development, social and emotional development, and cognitive development. They will specifically learn how to follow instructions and be familiar with preposition words.
- Play Pretend With Toys – Setting up imaginary tea parties with your toddler’s toys is a great way to get them started on having conversations. Encourage them to ask questions from their toys, and you can answer on behalf of them. Make up an effective back-and-forth exchange to get the maximum benefit from this activity.
- Sing Songs & Nursery Rhymes – It is scientifically proven that rhythm aids in memory. Allowing your toddler to learn words to a rhythm will help them remember new words and expand their vocabulary. Take the time to sing songs together with your child, and as a fun side-game, make up catchy songs about whatever you are doing at the moment.
- Build On Your Child’s Utterances – Whenever your baby utters a word, a small phrase, or maybe even an incoherent sentence, encourage them by adding on to what they already said. If your toddler says something like: ‘That’s a dog,’ add on something like, ‘Yes kiddo, that’s a fluffy, playful dog.’
- Explore, Explore, Explore – We can’t stress this enough. Your baby is the ultimate bundle of curiosity. Do whatever it takes to satisfy their natural curiosity and inquisitiveness. Take road trips, vacations, walks in the neighbourhood, or anything else that would get your toddler out in the world and expose them to language as much as possible. Always try to maintain a conversation with them while you are out. Ask them about what they can see and how they feel in a specific moment.
- Positive Reinforcement Is Key – Do not be overly critical of your baby and avoid correcting their mistakes as much as possible. It’s natural for them to make plenty of mistakes during the first couple of years, especially when it comes to grammar. The plurals, passive voice use, and the proper use of the past tense will come later; for now, just encourage them for trying and be patient.
A Closing Note: As soon as your toddler starts responding to you regularly, try to keep it up for around 10 minutes of back and forth between you. As we mentioned earlier, each baby reaches a conversational level at their own pace. However, suppose your baby hasn’t started babbling or speaking at least a few words by the time they are 18 months old. In that case, you should consult your paediatrician about it. It is natural for some kids to start talking pretty late, but speech therapy and doctor’s advice would help speed up the process.