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Encouraging Baby’s First Words
by Rebecca Garland

Among the many transformations your baby will undergo in her first years of life, the development of language is the most astonishing. In a matter of months, your baby will go from a fragile newborn, mewling with all her might to a discerning toddler ready to debate the finer points of vegetables versus dessert. Her contribution might be a steady diet of, “No!” or “Mine!” but the words will be used with great determination – you can count on that.

The Process of Learning Language
A great deal is known about babies and how they acquire language skills. In fact, language skills can begin developing before a baby is born, but you haven’t lost much time if you weren’t reading vocabulary cards to your developing fetus.

The first step of language is to listen and store information. In just a matter of weeks, your child will establish the foundations for the intricacies of your language. A baby is born with the capacity to learn any language, but after short months, she will

lose many of the potential language skills that she’d have used if she were born to parents who spoke a different dialect. The loss is gradual, but does exist.

Listening to Language
Your child likely loves the sound of your voice and is comforted by your speech and song. Conversing with your child is doing more than soothing her, however. You’re giving her valuable information about the way words and sentences are put together and how they are used. During this silent period, your child is learning considerably more than you might realize, so be sure to speak to her at every opportunity to encourage her vocabulary and skill development.

Encouraging Speech
It’s truly common sense, but a child born to quiet parents will likely be rather quiet herself. But the child born to parents who speak often will likely be more gregarious – if only in an effort to keep up with the conversation. To encourage speech, you must speak with your baby, even if she’s not speaking to you. You must simply speak for your baby.

It’s likely she’ll give you her rapt attention while you carry on these conversations. You might gain a few odd looks from strangers, but making a habit of asking your baby’s opinions on even trivial matters or letting her know what is happening around her will increase her vocabulary and establish the patterns of conversation.

Eventually your child will start responding to you with gibberish and bubbles when you speak to her. This is the first sign that she knows her place in the conversation. Praise her efforts by responding to everything she says as if it made perfect sense. To her it probably did.

Use Real Words
Finally, if you want to encourage your baby to speak well as she grows, you’ll need to lead by example. Avoid “baby talk” as much as possible and use proper grammar and conventions when speaking. Your child is learning words and patterns well before she’ll ever speak, so always be wary of using words you’d prefer her not use herself after her first birthday.

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