While your baby won’t be talking until they are around a year old, this sudden ability to vocalise doesn’t come out of nowhere! Everything you do with your baby, everything he sees, hears and experiences is helping him learn. You can help your baby with pre-verbal learning while having fun together and boosting his skills, confidence and enjoyment of life.
Only a small part of our communication is conducted through speech. A large part of it is non-verbal; the facial expressions we make, our body language and how we use our eyes are all just as important as what we actually say. Introduce your baby to lots of expressions, gestures and actions by responding when your baby stares or points, bring the item that has caught their attention closer, or talk about it.
Your baby will love the sound of his parents’ voice as soon as he is born. After all, he has been listening to you chat, sing, hum, laugh (and argue) for months. Use this to teach your baby about speech. Reading to your baby is a great way of doing this. Use different voices for different characters and change the tone of your voice to reflect what is happening in the story. So get faster and more excited in the exciting bits and slower and quieter in the gentle bits. If something is funny, then laugh and repeat anything your baby responds to. All of this is teaching your baby about intonation and emotion.
Sing to your baby, and not just to get them to sleep! Happy, bouncy songs with a definite rhythm are popular with babies, especially when they include actions or bouncing. As well as being lots of fun, activities like this are teaching your little one all about rhythm, and this is very important for speech. It is also encouraging them to communicate. A smile, a laugh or urging you to repeat actions is all communication between you and your baby.
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Name the things around you. You may sometimes feel like you are giving your baby a running commentary on everything that happens every second of the day, but it is all helping them to develop their understanding of the world around them. Even if your baby is not able to repeat the words, they are taking the information in. That is precisely why parents who talk to their babies find, to their amazement, that once their child starts to talk they have an impressive vocabulary of words and just need a little encouragement to use it.
In order for your baby to learn about how to have a conversation, he needs to learn about taking turns. This can be taught by having simple, clear conversations in front of your baby, “Hello Daddy, what have you got?”, “Hello Mummy, I have got a drink”, “Is the drink nice Daddy?”, “Yes this drink is very nice Mummy” etc. You can also help teach about taking turns using simple games where you pass things back and forward or by taking turns playing peekaboo.
All of these techniques are things you are likely to be doing with your baby anyway, but it feels good to know that singing, telling stories and being silly having fun are all benefiting your baby in a much bigger way. Enjoy!