Green Leaves

From her very first cry, your baby is a capable communicator, even without words. Language skills involve speaking, of course, but also include body language and gestures, which are essential for proper communication. Infants learn to speak at their own pace, but you can help further her verbal abilities through activities and play.

Year 1: Language-learning development

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 yours) to any other sound.

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

Two months: Your baby smiles to communicate. Cooing begins with vowel sounds and soon will progress to consonant sounds.

Five months: She is babbling, squealing, gurgling, and starting to imitate sounds. Name recognition will start to occur as her memory and attention span increase. She will start to understand what you're saying by distinguishing emotions from your tones.

One year: She can follow simple instructions and might be able to say two or three words.

Hints for supporting language development

Talk to her. A lot.
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 she begins to mature, ask questions and give her 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 throughout the first year.

Read to her. A lot.
Reading aloud is the simplest way to boost your baby's language abilities. Set aside a short time each day for reading. She 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 her.
Your baby has been imitating your sounds since the beginning. When the babbling increases, repeat the sounds back exactly. Try to encourage her to respond and imitate you. Clap and cheer whenever there is a related response.

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

She 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.