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All parents know babies communicate from the moment they’re born. They cry, frown, and wriggle and let everyone know when they’re hungry, cold, or need their nappy changed. How we respond to this non-verbal communication is the first step in helping our baby develop language.
As baby grows, we wonder when we will hear his or her first words. The exact timing will be different for every baby, but there are milestones you can look out for, and lots ways to help your little one develop language skills.
“How we respond to non-verbal communication is the first step in helping our baby develop language. ”
Most babies say their first words between 12 and 18 months. The words might not sound exactly right, but they have meaning, like ‘ba’ for ball, or ‘mumu’ for milk.
At around two, children have a burst of language development and a vocabulary of around 50 words. By two and a half, they start joining words together and forming phrases.
Most three-year-olds will use three to four-word sentences and be understood by familiar adults, while by the age of four children will generally use four to five-word sentences that everyone can understand.
Babies learn to understand what they hear long before they learn to speak. From the earliest days, you can help your baby develop language by watching and listening to them, and learning what their different cries are telling you. Imitate the sounds your baby makes, copy their actions, and talk to them often, speaking slowly and clearly.
As baby grows, you can emphasise words for the objects in your baby’s environment and use repetition to help them understand. Comment on sounds you hear, and take turns to talk, pausing to listen just as you would in an adult conversation.
It’s never too early for books
Early reading promotes good language and thinking skills and prepares children for learning to read and write. You can read to your baby from birth, choosing books with large, bright pictures, and even family photos. Point to and name objects, animals or people – and eventually bub will respond by trying to copy your sounds and actions.
Teach through play
All babies and children (and lots of adults) love to play. Look for opportunities for your little one to play with other children, choose age-appropriate games and toys to spark their curiosity, and create stories and word play for loads of fun as they learn.
Songs are also a wonderful way to develop language. Singing the same words over and over again helps baby learn language and rhythm, and can create special memories of favourite lullabies that they’ll treasure as they grow.
What to do if you’re concerned
If you are worried about your baby’s language development, contact a speech pathologist. Speech pathologists are trained to advise, diagnose and work with children who may be having trouble with their communication and support them to meet their language milestones.
And remember, it’s never too early to talk, sing, play and read to your baby!
To get in touch with one of our speech pathologists, call 1800 236 762.