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Mother smiling at baby in her arms.

Activities to support your baby's language-learning skills

Your baby begins communicating with her first cry and actually becomes a capable communicator well before her first word is actually said. Infants learn to speak at their own pace, but you can help further your baby's abilities with activities and play.

What are your baby's language skills?

Your baby's language skills involve the ability to speak, but also include the use of body language and gestures, along with the ability to communicate and understand what others are saying.

 

Your baby's language-learning development in year 1

Your baby learns language in stages — by hearing people make sounds, watching them communicate, and then experimenting with making sounds. Your baby prefers human voices (especially Mom's voice) to any other sound.

As early as 1 month, your baby can identify your voice from a different room.

By 2 months, your baby smiles to communicate. Cooing begins with vowel sounds and soon will progress to consonant sounds, which most commonly include "p," "m," "b," and by month 4, "d."

By 5 months, your baby is babbling, squealing, gurgling, and starting to imitate sounds. Name recognition will start to occur as your baby's memory and attention span increase. Your baby will start to understand what you're saying by distinguishing emotions from your tones.

By 12 months, your baby can follow simple instructions and might be able to say two or three words.

How to support your baby's language development

Start talking to your baby. Conversation in the first few months lays the groundwork for language development. Provide simple descriptions of what you and your baby see, hear, and smell. Use basic words to communicate ideas and emotions, and speak in an endearing tone.

As your baby begins to mature, ask questions and give your baby time to gurgle in response. This pattern reinforces that communication is a two-way process. Your baby learns the subtle rules of conversation — taking turns, imitation, and pacing of verbal interaction. Continue this practice throughout the first year.

Read to your baby. Reading aloud is the simplest way to boost your baby's language abilities. Set aside a short time each day for reading. Your baby won't grasp the plot, but reading promotes speech and encourages sound imitations. Start with brightly colored picture books. Animate your reading with facial expressions, sound effects, and character voices. As your baby grows older, always keep a few durable books within reach.

Imitate your baby. Your baby has been imitating your sounds since the beginning. When the babbling increases, repeat the sounds back exactly. Try to encourage your baby to respond and imitate you. Clap and cheer whenever there is a related response.

Point out and name familiar people and objects. By the time your baby is 9 months old, start asking "Where's Mama?" or "Where's Dada?" Encourage your baby to find and look at the person or familiar object (such as a toy, diaper, or bottle) that you've named. You also can make a photo album of family members, pets, or familiar objects.

Your infant might only stay interested in a book for a few minutes, but try each day. Remember to stay consistent with verbal labels. For instance, if you identify the cat photo as "kitty," don't switch to "cat" the next time you look through the book.

Provide quiet time. It might seem strange, but periodically eliminating the sounds of the television, radio, or computer can strengthen your baby's language skills by giving her time to practice without distraction.

Keep learning about your baby's development every week
 
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