Talk to me, baby
Posted on 11 April 2019
Syllable by syllable, your baby’s language skills develop slowly at first. Stimulating your child will encourage them to learn, and help prevent language delays.
“There are milestones in children’s language development, but every child is different,” says Mediclinic Constantiaberg speech therapist Stephanie Wainwright. An important milestone, however, is that children should be using phrases by the age of two.
WHEN DOES SPEECH DEVELOPMENT START?
▶ Speech can start anywhere from nine months, says Wainwright. By two years old, kids should have a vocabulary of at least 50 words. Birth to three years is prime language-learning time.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN IF YOUR CHILD’S SPEECH IS DELAYED?
▶ A significant delay could be an indicator of an underlying disorder, such as childhood apraxia of speech. This is a motor speech disorder that occurs when language is developed but not fully intelligible. It could also signal autism spectrum disorder, or could simply be a mild language delay. A therapist can help determine the extent of this delay, and how serious it might be. There is also an established link between late talkers and later learning and literacy difficulties.
IS IT EVER TOO LATE TO CATCH UP ON LANGUAGE?
▶ “While language is a lifelong learning process – as our brains are developing all the time – it does get more difficult to learn later in life,” says Wainwright.
WHAT IS THE BEST THING PARENTS CAN DO TO ENCOURAGE LANGUAGE SKILLS?
▶ “Play,” says Wainwright. “Kids learn best when playing.”
WHEN SHOULD PARENTS SEEK HELP?
▶ “If your child is 18 months old and not using any expressive language, or failing to follow one-step instructions, Wainwright suggests seeing a speech therapist. “Alternatively, your child might require assistance if they are not using two-word phrases by the age of two, as between the ages of two and three they should be following two- to three-step instructions. If your child is not intelligible by age four, you should have them assessed by a qualified audiologist or speech therapist.”
WHO WOULD HAVE THOUGHT
Language development starts in the womb. A 2013 study showed that unborn babies listen to their mothers speak during the final 10 weeks of pregnancy. At birth, they can even demonstrate what they’ve heard.
MILESTONES & SUGGESTIONS FOR LANGUAGE STIMULATION
▶ AGE: Birth-1 month
MILESTONES: Baby vocalisations include crying, coughing and burping. They should respond to mom’s voice and watch the speaker’s face when spoken to.
STIMULATION: Eye contact and building the mother-baby bond is the most important thing at this stage. Sing songs and recite rhymes to your baby.
▶ AGE: 2-3 months
MILESTONES: Uses more vowel sounds and you may hear “k” and “g” sounds.
STIMULATION: Copy the sounds that your baby is making.
▶ AGE: 4-6 months
MILESTONES: Your baby squeals, growls, yells and blows raspberries. They are starting to understand sounds, and respond to speech and music.
STIMULATION: Name everything in your child’s environment and explain what you are doing. Repetition is important. This is a great time to implement your own unique baby signs. It doesn’t matter how you sign, just be consistent.
▶ AGE: 7-9 months
MILESTONES: Your baby listens to music with interest. You will hear consonant vowel combinations and reduplicated syllables, such as ma-ma. They now put meaning to sounds. They should respond to “no” and their name, point to objects and initiate games (this is expressive language).
STIMULATION: Spend time on the floor playing with your child. It’s the best way to learn, but keep play simple. Read books and name pictures too.
▶ AGE: 10-12 months
MILESTONES: Combining syllables and sounds starts now. You should be hearing h, m, b, p, d, t, n and w. They should follow one-step directions, know familiar objects when they are named, and even have a handful of meaningful words to use.
STIMULATION: Play rhyming/word games like “Round and round the garden”, as well as ball games and uncomplicated wooden puzzles.
DID YOU KNOW?
There is sign language for babies and it greatly boosts language development. Start signing at six months and they will respond from nine months. Just be consistent with signs. When they learn verbal language, they will drop sign language.
SOME HELPFUL LINKS
WORDS KERI HARVEY
PHOTOGRAPHS GALLO/GETTY IMAGES