Advice to help you help your baby develop their language and communication skills simply by talking.
As a parent you provide the primary source of information through which your baby will learn about the surrounding world and how to interact in it. By communicating with your baby through speech, touch and shared attention you not only help to develop a special bond but also act to enhance their social, psychological and intellectual development.
Recent research suggests that the number of children with language and communication difficulties is growing (National Literacy Trust). Although the exact cause is not known it is thought to be a combination of factors such as the increased presence of television in the home, increased parental working hours, little concentrated time spent as a family unit (i.e. at meal times) and a decrease in the use of nursery rhymes and interactive play with family members, all contributing to a significant decrease in the level of focused, one on one attention that a young baby receives.
It is currently estimated that 1 in 10 children suffer speech impairment serious enough to require professional help; with many more nursery aged infants displaying inadequate communication skills. The National Literacy Trust are currently running a 'Talk to your Baby' campaign which aims to raise awareness that infants are not able to develop sufficient communication and language skills simply by being exposed to the world around them. Instead they are in need of focused, one to one attention from parents and other caregivers to help develop their communication skills fully - this is most vital between birth and the age of 3, when the foundation blocks for future learning are laid.
Although newborns are unable to communicate verbally (aside from crying), they are able to engage in shared attention. The best way to communicate with a very young infant is to hold them approximately ten inches away from your face (as this is where they are best able to focus) and spend some time singing, chatting or making facial expressions to stimulate them. This helps to familiarise the child with the sounds and patterns naturally occurring in speech and provide them with the basis for language development. A good time to do this is after feeding when your baby is relaxed; this can be a good way to help a new Dad form a bond with baby.
Another excellent way of helping your child to develop a good basis for language is by constantly talking to them, describing where you are and what you are doing, as this acts to continually reinforcing the sound of speech. Additionally, as your baby grows older you can begin to reinforce the names of everyday objects when their attention is focused on the object; the use of simple picture books can reinforce this association.
At approximately 8 months of age, babies start to form consonant sounds such as 'ba' and 'da'; copying your baby will reinforce these already acquired sounds and by introducing new sounds your baby will begin to expand their knowledge of speech sounds. By 12 months your baby is likely to understand a lot of what you say and may have a trial and error vocabulary of up to about 50 words. Encouragement and language stimulation are as important as ever as at this age the speech patterns and sounds already learnt really come into play as your child begins to construct basic sentences and learns to associate newer, more abstract words with their associated objects and actions.
However, communication with your child can begin before they are born. Babies' ears develop in approximately the third week of gestation and they are able to respond to sound stimulation by the sixteenth week. It is though that this is when a baby begins to learn the basic speech sounds, patterns and typical frequencies used in their native language. In the womb, the mother's voice can be heard very clearly and although external voices are less clear, they are still audible, especially those of lower frequencies (enabling Dads to familiarise the baby with their voice).
Research has shown that whilst in the womb, a foetus is able to respond to vocal stimulation through movement of limbs and also in the level of reciprocal stimulation they exhibit. Fitzpatrick (2002) found that the sound of a mother's voice results in a decrease of the heart rate of a foetus. Additional findings suggest that babies remember the sounds they heard whilst in the womb, with newborns showing an instant preference to the sound of their parents' voices over others and responding more to songs and stories they were exposed to in the womb in comparison with new versions (Salt '87)
By exposing your baby to focused and attentive communication throughout pregnancy and from birth onwards, you will be helping your child to build the valuable language skills which will later help them read, write, converse and socialise effectively. Methods to use include attentive listening, singing songs, active playing, looking at picture books and talking in simple baby talk without distractions.
By spending a little time each day indulging your baby with your undivided attention you'll not only develop a stronger bond with your baby but also be helping them to develop important skills that will set them up for the rest of their life.
The National Literacy Trust offer a range of free downloadable resources designed to help you develop your child's communication skills from birth.
Click here to visit the website