Did you know that you can give your baby an early advantage in developing high quality speech and language skills? Experts are now saying that the number of words your child hears as an infant and as a toddler can have a huge influence on baby speech and language development. In fact, language stimulation is crucial during early development and especially throughout their first two years of life. The more you speak to your little ones at this stage, the better they will be at understanding speech and learning new words.
How Can New Parents Interact With Their Baby?
Wondering how you can talk to your baby, and which topics you can introduce to their young minds? There are several ways, but one of the most important things to know before you start is that that the effort you put in now can benefit your child greatly throughout life.
1. Use Words During Playtime
Studies show that there is a clear relationship between communication skills and early social play. One study even found that a mother’s responses during child’s play was related to improved language development at a later stage. 
What to do: Talk to your baby or toddler during playtime. Talk about what’s happening around them, and respond to their gestures, sounds, and words.
Label toys and manipulate them while explaining what you are doing. Children generally learn their first words by linking a word they hear to something they can see. So when you pair target words to specific toys or actions, you are helping your little one develop their first link to object-word identification, and language. 
One language stimulation technique called expansion can also come in handy during playtime. This is how it works: take a word that your child says and expand it by adding one or two words to it.
Your child may say: “Ball” and you could expand on it by saying: “Red Ball” or “Bouncy Ball.”
2. Select The Right Toys To Stimulate Language
Choosing the right toys can have a big impact on your child’s learning experience. Look for toys that:
- Have more than one use
- Engage the senses
- Encourage imaginative play
- Allow kids to make their own decisions
What to do: Be intentional about the toys you offer your children. Great toys for developing language skills include rattles, building blocks, puzzles, puppets or picture books.
Another good idea is to provide your child with toys that have small differences. That way your child can learn to differentiate between things like big and small, different shapes, colours, and more. 
(See also: Award-Winning Baby Toys 2018)
3. Create Opportunities For Your Baby To Talk
If you want your baby to start taking part in conversations, you might want to set up an environment in which your child will be more keen to talk. This can easily be done using communication temptations. 
What to do: Get your child to ask you for assistance by, for example, showing them what a wind-up toy does and then handing it to them without winding it up again. You could also stick their hand into something wet, cold or sticky to provoke a response.
Another good idea is to create daily routines that your child can be a part of. When someone leaves, for instance, your baby could wave and say goodbye.
4. Encourage Language Skills With Music and Songs
Babies love music and they also like repetition. Music can be a powerful tool for developing receptive, as well as expressive language skills.
With music, there are no rules. Your child won’t care if you can sing well and they will be happy to sing along with or listen to just about anything. For them, it’s a way to connect with you, and to have fun.
What to do: Sing songs about your kid’s daily activities. You can even enjoy a sing-along during an activity. For instance, on a bus ride, try singing “Wheels on the Bus” or, when they spot a spider, sing “Incy Wincy Spider.” Incorporate movements into these fun songs and watch your youngster glow!
Over time, your child will learn to recognise rhymes and songs and they will start requesting their favourite ones.
(See also: Does My Child have a Speech Delay?)
5. Read To Your Baby
By reading to your child, you are providing him/her with opportunities for developing language skills. Books are filled with words that kids don’t normally hear in everyday conversations. They also contain pictures that help to illustrate the meanings of new words. 
What to do: Use books to explain things to your child, and discuss stories and pictures with them. Studies have shown that children are more likely to learn new words when they hear the same story more than once. 
6. Describe Things To Your Child
It may seem a little strange to you, but you can actually boost your child’s language skills by describing things to them. Three language stimulation techniques can be used here: Parallel talk, description, and self-talk. 
What to do: Engage in parallel talk by talking about what your youngster is doing. While your child is eating, you could try saying: “Eating peas” or “Sweet peas.”
You could also describe an object that your child is using or looking at. Hand them a toy and say things like: “Big block” or “Blue block.” Another good idea is to instruct them to do something with the object.
Self-talk is when you describe what you are doing to your child. When you cook a meal in the kitchen, for instance, allow your child to observe from a safe distance as you describe what you are doing. Additionally, while you are dressing your child, you could say things like: “Shoes on” or “Shirt buttoned.”
By describing everyday activities, you are teaching your child to become familiar with these phrases. In turn, they will feel more comfortable using them in speech.
7. Allow Your Child To Experience Things
As a child develops, their experiences can affect their brain development. This includes anything they hear, touch, smell, taste, think and feel. Early experiences can also influence language development. 
What to do: Take your child for a walk outside or you could even arrange to visit family or friends. As long as you provide an interesting new environment, your baby is sure to learn new things.
Other ideas would be to introduce interesting new flavours to your baby during lunchtime or to encourage your toddler to pay attention to how different things smell.
8. Which First Words Can I Introduce To My Baby?
Your baby’s first words symbolise a major milestone in their development, and also serve as their initial bond with the adult world. By being able to express themselves verbally, babies can be part of the world on a whole new level.
What to do: Promote positive communication experiences by teaching your baby language that is simple and straight forward. Here’s a list of some of the most common words that are introduced to babies first. 
Remember to reassure your youngsters as they learn. As soon as they start feeling confident saying a few words, they will be inspired to say even more.
Talk to Your Baby, Mum!
Start talking to your baby from birth in order to give them an early advantage in developing language and communication skills. Your little one is excited to hear you talk, and they can’t wait to talk back!
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- Guyton, G. (2011). Using toys to support infant-toddler learning and development.
- Seattle Children’s: Speech and Language Services (2016). Strategies to Promote Language Development. Seattle. Washington.
- Whitehurst, G.J., Falco, F.L., Lonigan, C.J., et al. (1988. Accelerating language development through picture book reading. Developmental Psychology, 24(4), 552-559.
- Horst, J. S., Parsons, K. L., & Bryan, N. M. (2011). Get the story straight: Contextual repetition promotes word learning from storybooks. Frontiers in Psychology, 2, 17.
- Fickenscher, S., Gaffney, E., & Dickson, C. (2016). Auditory verbal strategies to build listening and spoken language skills.
- Mustard, J.F. (2010),Early Brain Development and Human Development. Council for Early Child Development, Toronto, Canada.
- Gardner-Neblett, N., & Gallagher, K. C. (2013). More than baby talk: 10 ways to promote the language and communication skills of infants and toddlers. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina, FPG Child Development Institute.
This article was contributed by Dr. Lisa Lim Su Li, Clinical Director and Senior Speech Language Pathologist at The Speech Practice Pte Ltd