From birth to about two years of age, a child communicates only through gestures and cries. Learning how to communicate using distinguishable words is one of the developmental milestones that your child will go through. Toddlers without developmental disorders will naturally progress from cooing and babbling sounds towards one-word utterances. However, there are some steps you could take to guide your young child towards greater progress in his oral language skills.
- Know what to expect. It’s very important for you to know of the traits that children are expected to exhibit whenever they reach a certain age. For example, a baby at 5 months reacts to loud sounds, watches your face intently when you speak, and makes noise when he is spoken to. A baby at 11 months can babble (“ma-ma” or “ba-ba”) and tries to communicate through gestures. A baby at 17 months can point to family members, and tries to imitate simple words. Toddlers at 23 months can say 8-10 words (with unclear pronunciations) and can combine two words (“get toy”). Ask your child’s pediatrician for a copy of these developmental milestones.
- Engage in a one-way conversation. When you are bonding with your child, talk to her as if she can understand you. Do not “baby talk”. It only increases your child’s chances of pronouncing words as you do. Talk to her as you would talk to your family. If she always hears you talking, she picks up words that she often hears from you, so make sure that you do not speak ill words when she is around if you don’t want her to pick up the language.
- Read stories to her. Studies overwhelmingly show that children who grow up in a print-rich environment learn to speak and read better and faster than those who do not. One of the best things you could do to your child is to regularly read to her stories. Make sure that the book you read is developmentally appropriate for your child – that is, with word constructions and storylines that are simple enough for her to comprehend. After the read aloud, have an informal discussion with her about the story.
- Let her watch educational shows on TV. There are a lot of cable programs that you can let your baby watch. One of them is Playhouse Disney Channel. This channel caters to small kids. It is packed with educational programs and your baby can learn to talk just by watching the shows. Watching television helps greatly in your child’s speech development. You can also buy DVDs that teach kids speak their first words.
- Expose her to a lot of different experiences. Studies show that one of the best ways to develop your child’s oral language skills is by exposing her to a variety of experiences. Remember, words will only make sense to your child if she actually knows what the words mean. You could take a daily trip with her around the neighborhood, and point out to her things, with the objective of developing her vocabulary knowledge.
Teaching your child how to speak is all a matter of working with her natural rate of development. You should also expose her to a lot of learning opportunities so you could effectively lay down the foundations of literacy in her young mind.