Babies begin listening and learning language even before birth, but it’s around year one where the most crucial language development happens. Early on, babies communicate through crying and gestures (pointing or tugging); around the age of 10 months, infants begin babbling and might speak their first word.
Research shows that children exposed to adult-sounding language (complex sentences and grammatical constructions) acquire language faster. According to Dana Abdul-Ahad Nawfal, M.Ed, co-founder and managing director of LEAPS Learning Center in Lebanon and the UAE, “all the research says that oral language development is directly related to school performance later on, especially reading. The more we enhance oral language development for a child as a base, the more chance she has later on to be successful in school– it’s as simple as that!”
Want to help your one-year-old learn language faster? Try these seven activities, or hire a trained Jaleesa infant carer (like Charlotte, above), and let us know how you get on!
- Read together
It’s never too early to start reading to your baby. Read together several times a day. Incorporate pointing into your reading time, Nawfal advises: “pre-speech children need to point before they speak. Pointing to something in the story and saying the name establishes the relationship between the object and the name, which is the basis for oral communication.”
Next steps: ask your toddler to point out pictures to you in the book, and ask her to tell you what she sees. Also read alphabet books to help her start laying the groundwork for reading.
- Drop the baby talk
Your baby acquires language from you, so you should be a model for good language skills. “Say it to your child the way you’d say it to an adult,” says Nawfal. “The idea is not to simplify the language because if you only use the same words the child’s vocabulary will be limited.”
Use proper grammar, slowly and in complete (but short) sentences. Listen attentively to what your child says. Repeat her words back to her to model pronunciation and encourage her to develop good listening skills.
- Harness pre-verbal communication with sign language
Because babies can communicate physically before they can communicate orally, introducing sign language is a way to help them associate a word with its meaning, says Nawfal. Babies are developmentally ready to understand sign language beginning at four months, but won’t be able to sign back until at least seven months. Try the sign for ‘eat’: place the fingers of one hand together and bring them to your mouth as you say ‘eat’. Repeat every time you say it in a sentence: ‘Is it time to ‘eat’ now? Are you ready to ‘eat’? Would you like another bite to ‘eat’?’. As your baby approaches toddler age, incorporate more complex signs like ‘ball’, or ‘cat’.
- Introduce spatial concepts like ‘on’, ‘in’, ‘under’, etc.
When playing with your toddler, give her objects that can go on top of each other. Say ‘I put the cat on the roof’ and repeat. Avoid saying ‘the cat is not on the roof’ as it will interfere with her picking up the concept, and avoid introducing other concepts (at this point) like in, or under. Next, ask your child to put the cat on the roof, and repeat with a variety of objects. Ask her yes / no questions about the concept (‘Is the cat on the roof?’), and conclude with asking the child ‘Where’ questions that will encourage her to say the word ‘on.’
- Turn errands into a scavenger hunt
At the supermarket, ask your toddler to identify things: ‘Point to something that is red! What is it? Point to something that is a circle! What do we do with that?’ At home, pretend you can’t find something easy, like her socks or the orange juice. Have your toddler explain where the object can be found.
- Sing vocabulary songs
Music reinforces learning for people of all ages. Help your toddler acquire new words by introducing songs like Head Shoulders Knees and Toes, and rhyming songs like The Itsy Bitsy Spider. If your child is in a nursery, contact her teacher to find out what songs they sing there, and reinforce them at home. When you get bored (you will get bored), introduce new ones!
- Prepare for word spurt with verbal labeling
“Every single thing the child touches the parent should be naming,” says Nawfal. “Follow the child’s lead, and put words to everything they’re doing, even if you think the word and the action might not go together. For instance, instead of saying ‘vroom vroom’ when a child slams a toy car down on the ground, say ‘bang!’. Or, during shower time, narrate what you’re doing: ‘You’re splashing the water! I’m lathering your hair!’”
These words will all come out in the ‘word spurt’ stage, around 18 months for girls and just over two years for boys. “My son was an early talker,” says Nawfal. “He started at 10 months, and I think it’s because we labelled everything. He started with one or two words, and then boom he was talking to me in complete sentences. Now he’s two years four months and he’s using huge words that I haven’t said to him in a year or longer.”
Photo credits: Jacob Russell, Alexander Drummer, Daiga Ellaby
Source: jaleesa blog