Even in the womb, babies tune into their mum’s voice and those of other significant adults. That means once they’re born, they’ll instinctively love to hear you talk and have you close, moving their head or body towards sounds they hear or recognise. It’s the start of a lifelong conversation between you.
Though they can’t yet speak, newborn babies are fascinated by faces and will try to copy your expressions. Have fun sticking your tongue out or opening and closing your mouth, and see if they try to do the same. They also love to play peek-a-boo: seeing you disappear and then appear again helps them to begin thinking about where things are when they can’t see them.
Between two and four months old, babies start to make eye contact, smiling, gurgling or giving you little signals such as moving arms and legs. Encourage this as it helps your baby to develop their sense of self, and start learning social skills.
As you go about your day, talk to your baby about what you’re up to, and if you notice they’re particularly interested in something, talk to them about it. Babies love ‘sing-song’ voices with lots of facial expressions. Don’t be afraid to leave gaps in the ‘conversation’ – it’s a chance for them to respond with a smile or gurgle so they start to get the hang of ‘taking turns’.
Little babies will also listen and respond to an adult singing songs and rhymes with them.
From six months, your baby will start to look at you when you call their name, and will start to understand words like ‘bye bye’ and ‘up’, especially when a gesture is used at the same time. They’ll also recognise the names of familiar objects like ‘teddy’ and ‘mummy’. You’ll hear them starting to make babble sounds like ma-ma-ma and ba-ba-ba. When they do this, repeat the same sounds back. This lets them know you’re listening and encourages them to have another go. By the time they’re a year old, they may start to use their first words.
Why not talk to your baby about their favourite toys? For example, ask if they can find teddy’s nose, eyes and feet. Then see if they can point to their own nose, eyes and feet and your nose, eyes etc. They’ll need to hear these words many, many times before they can start to use them themselves.
Every child develops differently, so when children start talking varies hugely. If you’re worried about your baby’s speech, don’t be afraid to discuss it with your health visitor who can signpost extra support and services where necessary.
Ditch the dummy!
Dummies can be a great comfort at bedtime or when your baby’s upset, but you should try to wean them off it by the time they’re a year old because regular and extended use of a dummy can cause problems with developing speech. Your baby needs lots of time to practice making sounds without anything in their mouth, so at the very least restrict their use to bed time. Find out more about ditching the dummy here.
If your child is growing up learning more than one language, you might find this website helpful as you support them.
- Tiny Happy People- How babies learn by listening to the world around them
- Tiny Happy People- Why face-to-face conversation is so important to babies’ language development
- The Communication Trust- The ages and stages of children’s communication development
- The Communication Trust- Through the eyes of a child
- The Communication Trust- Top talking tips for parents
- National Literacy Trust- Bilingual quick tips
- Vroom- Brain building
- NSPCC- Look, Sing, Play Campaign