Speech and Language Development in Infants
Author: Kathy Murdock
Who doesn’t love listening to a baby coo and babble? The sounds, like music to the ears, can stop any mother’s heart. Though these soft syllables and noises may seem nonsensical, babbling and cooing are babies first journey into the world of language. These expressions help infants understand the way we use language to express our needs. Practicing these skills also helps infants and children learn to correctly speak words.
At times, parents worry about speech and language development in children. While people may refer to these problems as a “speech” issue or a “language” problem in general, language and speech problems are not one in the same. Though they can overlap, says Dr. Jane Bailey, Dean of the School of Education at Post University, each has its own set of problems.
Speech relates to the way a child communicates verbally, such as forming words and using intelligible speech. “According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing association,” Bailey adds, “speech consists of articulation, voice, and fluency.”
Language, on the other hand, is connected to the mental processing of speech and refers more to understanding the meaning of words being said and effectively communicating needs. “If you suspect language development problems, try to identify if it’s because of speech or language issues,” Bailey says. She continues, “Learning language develops in generally sequential steps. Even the early steps in language sequence are important.”
Bailey says parents should watch for and encourage precursors to language skills, such as cooing and voice recognition, as early as three months old.
By the age of six months, babies should begin to display both speech and language acquisition, and can say most of the vowel sounds, says Diane Bahr, author of Nobody Ever Told Me (Or My Mother) That! Everything from Bottles and Breathing to Healthy Speech Development.
Between the ages of 9 and 12 months, most children will use words like mama, dada, no, go, and me; and by eighteen to twenty-one months of age, most children can say the speech sounds of their own language. They should also “begin putting two words together,” Bahr adds.
Bailey recommends the following activities to help your infant gain speech and language skills:
- Talk, talk, talk. “One of the best ways to help promote language development is through modeling. As you and your child move through the day, talk about what you’re doing, where you’re going, what you’re seeing, hearing, and feeling.” Ask your child questions and then listen to the answers. Build on what your child says. “Yes, I can see the bird in the tree. How do you think he got so high up in the tree?” Bailey cautions against talking for your child. Let your child answer and ask questions she has a need.
- Read with, rather than at, your child. Ask questions and make connections. “Point to the picture of the blue bird. Why is the bird on the ground?”
- Provide something new for your child to experience each day. Play I Spy. Hunt for bugs in the park. “Each new experience stores important brain information that gets unlocked when coupled with lots of conversation about these experiences,” says Bailey; and children with these stored experiences have an easier time learning vocabulary. “Hands-on experiences are a huge part of vocabulary development.”
- Create a photo board with pictures of key people and things. Include pictures of relatives and stop each day to ask questions, such as, “Who is Aunt Dee?” or “What is daddy doing there?” or “Why is the dog on the front porch?” Older children might put pictures in the correct order or tell stories about the photographs.