It’s amazing how well you can communicate with a newborn, given that they can’t talk or even smile yet. But as your baby grows, you will probably find yourself looking forward to those first words — and beyond! When can you expect your baby to start talking, and what can you do to help her in her development?
Believe it or not, babies start acquiring language very early on, well before they can talk. They use the same process that an adult moving to a new country and learning a new language uses, and that process can actually start in the womb. As a highly international person who now speaks five languages fluently, I have more than my fair share of experience with wrong word usage and embarrassing blunders. But it works, in the end, and adults don’t need textbooks to learn languages just as babies don’t.
What do you need, as an adult or older child learning a new language? You need people to talk to you all the time, pointing at things and making comments about them. That’s what little babies need, too.
They depend on us as parents to help them acquire language, through talking to them. Most babies spend most of their time in the company of a primary caregiver. In many cases, this will be the mother. Many babies depend on their moms to talk to them to learn to speak, then. Yet for some moms, it simply feels silly to have whole conversations with their tiny tots. I was there, not too long ago. But talking to your baby does start to feel more natural as time goes on.
“Daddy left his shirt on the bedroom floor. Again. Now, we have to pick it up and put it in the washing machine. See, this is where fabric softener goes, and this compartment is for detergent. Now, let’s go and answer some emails. If we don’t reply to grandma she’ll get worried about us. After that, we can go make some lunch. We’re going to have Melissa and Tom over for lunch. They like lasagna, so that’s what I will make. Would you like to watch me?”
These kinds of descriptive conversations can really help. Before you know it, your baby will start responding to you. Somewhere between six weeks and three months, most babies will start to gurgle at you, and make repeated vowel sounds like “ah-ah-ah”. Those sounds are their first clue their voice is powerful, so take care to respond. A little later, at about six months of age, you can expect to hear new sounds like “ga-ga” and “boo-boo-boo”, that include both consonants and vowels. Your baby is experimenting with language, and loving your replies and smiles.
Keep on talking to your baby, and read books to her if you like. Even playing audio books in the background will help your baby in her natural process of language acquisition.
Before you know it, your baby will start saying actual words. They can come as early as eight months, but some babies don’t start using real words until they are a year and a half old. If your baby invents her own words for objects, that counts as beginning talking. My daughter said “toco-toco” for chocolate for some time, for instance. Proper words will come. “Mom” and “dad” may be among the first ones, but you can expect your baby to come out with nouns like “milk” or commands like “give” early on as well.
By the time your child reaches toddlerhood, he will speak simple and perhaps even complex sentences. He will ask questions (Why, mom?), tell you very clearly what he likes and what he doesn’t, and tell you all kinds of things that will show you just how he experiences the world. Before you know it, he’ll move on to reading and writing. Enjoy this special time with your baby while it lasts!