Friends and family members with young children frequently ask me: “What can I do to help my little one talk more?” I often encounter parents who feel anxious and wonder if they are doing enough.
What few people know is that babies start absorbing language as early when they’re in the womb. Scientific studies utilizing early infant suck patterns as a measurement tool, have revealed that newborns prefer their mother’s voice and their “native” language (the language most frequently spoken by the mother while they were in utero). Surprisingly, new borns still have the capacity to hear the subtle, phonetic differences of languages other than their native tongue for the first year of their life and even after if they are consistently exposed to secondary and tertiary languages.
I share this information to remind parents that humans are built with initiate tools and desires to learn and use language! Home programming is an opportunity to support the incredible capacities your child has been born with. Developmental delays, pre-existing diagnoses etc. are opportunities to observe your child and discover how they uniquely learn best. Some strategies work better for some children than for others but the following strategies are tools that have proven beneficial for the diverse group of little ones I’ve worked with.
Create a language-rich environment. Studies have shown that the diversity of words a child is exposed to within the first years of life are correlated with linguistic and cognition skills they develop in preschool and elementary school. Conversations among adults and siblings at the dinner table, in the car, at restaurants etc. are great times to put away screens and model rich language.
Use simplified or “bite-sized” language in play. This may seem contradictory to the above point. Let me explain. While young children benefit from a language-rich environment, during times of one-on-one engagement and play, it’s beneficial to use more simplified language. For example, when playing with a car set, you can target simple single words and two-word phrases such as “car,” “up,” “down,” “go,” “car up!,” “car down!,” “car go!”
Practice Self Talk. “Self Talking” refers to narrating anything you do during routines and activities of daily living. Studies have shown a strong correlation between increased language acquisition in children whose parents frequently use Self Talk. It may seem repetitive, but this strategy is simple and easy! For example, during bath time, narrate the step to prepare the bathtub: “Let’s turn on the light and fill up the tub with water. Splash! Here it comes. Uh-oh! It got on my shirt! Now let’s add some bubbles. Mmmmm they smell so yummy. Pop pop pop!”
Practice Parallel Talk. In contrast to Self Talk, “Parallel Talk” refers to narrating anything the child does during routines and activities of daily living. Studies have also shown a strong correlation between increased language acquisition in children whose parents frequently use Parallel Talk. For example, “Wow you got the red ball! Now you’re throwing it to Daddy. Bounce bounce bounce. Uh-oh, the puppy got it…”
Read with your child. Studies have shown that reading with children from an early age develops pre-literacy skills. It also provides ample opportunities to socially engage children. expose them to rich language and develop an early love for literacy.
Stay engaged with your child throughout the day. In a world of technology, it can be easy to pop-in your headphones during a Target run to listen to music or a podcast but simple routines of daily living (e.g. going to the grocery store, going to the post office, raking the yard, etc.) are fantastic opportunities to engage your child. Children do not learn language from watching television or iPad apps but from engaging with people who are using it in daily activities. Tell your baby what you’re buying, name items they show interest in, etc.
Repetition Repetition Repetition. Babies hear sounds and words hundreds if not thousands of times before they attempt imitation. Be patient. Enjoy the journey and know that the pressure is off to be a perfect parent!