Communication starts long before a baby can talk. A baby’s first form of language is crying, which is the most efficient way to connect. Your baby uses different cries to try and convey exactly what is going on. But what else can you expect with regards to your baby’s language and communication? Here, we guide you through the different phases of language development.
Two to three months
At around two months old, your baby will start using sounds. They begin to train the tongue and jaw muscles by making vowel-like sounds such as “ooh” and “aah”. When your baby is about three months old, he or she get progressively better at actively seeking, or stopping, contact with you. They do this by looking at you and by lowering their eyes or turning their head.
During this initial period, it is very important for your baby’s emotional security and growth to cuddle and stroke them often. Talking to him or her a lot also makes them feel calm and instils confident. For example, explain what you are doing while changing their nappy.
As they reach four months of age, your baby will make more and more new cooing sounds, as different guttural sounds expand and your child practices with his voice. By talking back to your baby and responding to their cooing sounds, your baby will become comfortable with communication and you will stimulate their language development.
Around this period your child will also recognise faces well. Furthermore, it is increasingly important to use a lot of facial expressions in your interaction with your baby, as your baby will learn to understand emotions from this.
From the age of five months, the sounds your baby makes become more consistent and varied. The sequences get longer (think: “babaababa”), because the jaw muscles, tongue muscles and vocal cords become stronger and they are practicing hard for speaking with words later on. Your baby will now remember and reapply any new sounds that they make, too. They will also recognise voices well now.
Interact with your child a lot; this helps them learn to communicate with others and they become familiar with the social nature of language. During this interaction, be sure to also give your baby time to respond to you when you smile or talk to them.
At around the age of six months, your baby starts to communicate progressively better with sounds. While crying is still the most effective means of communication, your baby is also practicing facial expressions, gestures and sounds. Babies are increasingly conscious of actively seeking contact in every possible way. By laughing, reaching out with their arms, blowing raspberries, moving their tongue and lips, and sputtering and cooing.
There will be more variations in the noises your baby can produce by allowing their muscles, vocal cords and breathing to work together. The sounds are also becoming clearer and more attuned to adults. As a result, they start to sound more and more like words in the mother tongue.
From about seven months, babies start to hear even more distinctions in the tone you use in your speech. They can now recognise whether you are happy, surprised or angry. Your baby will also manage to produce different pitches and volume levels.
Around this age, children also develop a sense of attachment and become clingy, which means your baby prefers to be around mum or dad all the time. Even you walking to the other side of the room can cause them to cry greatly, because your baby thinks you have left them for good. And your child will not understand you when you explain in words that you will be coming back, because they are not sufficiently trained in language and communication to do so yet. But you can practice with this by, for example, playing peek-a-boo games. By doing so, you will help your child to reduce their separation anxiety in a playful way.
Around eight months of age, your baby really starts to practice communication in a socially accepted way. They listen when you talk and babble themselves as you listen. By listening, your child becomes increasingly familiar with language. Children increasingly do their best to imitate your sounds, which then stimulates them to produce even more sounds.
Repeat the sounds your child makes yourself; this stimulates them to try even more sounds. Talk a lot with your child yourself, so that they come into contact with different sounds and can practice interaction. Read lots of books with simple words and pictures and do so on a regular, repetitive basis. This will help your child connect words with images.
Babbling with two-syllable sounds continues to develop and by about nine months, most children have their own words for familiar people or things. They point to a person or object and say a sound, and they will always use that sound for that same person or object. By mentioning the name of the person or object, you will teach your child to make the connection with that word. For example, by saying: “Do you want your dummy/pacifier?”
At around this age, babies also gain more control over the muscles in their face and therefore spend a lot of time practicing facial expressions. They test these expressions with their environment and learn through the reactions of those around them to understand which expressions go with which emotions.
Ten to eleven months
Most ten-month-olds still can’t say many intelligible words, but they already understand much more than adults often think. They are still occupied with practicing sounds and noises, and the sounds and noises that they make are more and more like the speech of adults. They are no longer gibberish, but are clear tones and speech sounds. Your child will often imitate you in the sounds you make and also mimic lip sounds such as “brrr”. Perhaps they will also start singing along to music at this stage. Not with words yet of course, but with melodic sounds and different tones and volume levels.
Around the age of eleven months, your child’s ability to concentrate expands and they also start to use long-term memory more often. This will be evident in them having less interest in the repetition of sounds and more interest in new sounds. Your child will often listen attentively to people talking. By doing so, they will learn words and the patterns of a language. It becomes increasingly easy for them to remember which words have what meaning, what the intonation of each word is and how they themselves should use the word.
Your child's vocabulary expands tremendously during the twelve month period, particularly in the form of sounds. A number of children start with their first words, often an easy-to-pronounce word that refers to something familiar, such as "mommy," "daddy".
It is important to practice and repeat words. You may find that your child also feels the need to hear the same book or music every time, this is training language, vocabulary and long-term memory for children. Also, name more and more words of things that are pointed out by your child and talk to your child a lot yourself, this way your child will practice linking words to objects and people and will start to understand more words.
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