As the baby arrives in our life, she brings with her so many happy, beautiful reasons with her for us to look forward to every new day and every new development. The smile, the happy laughter, the first time she turns by herself, raises herself up and sits……, every achievement of the child is an happy moment for the parents. Once the child turns one, we anxiously wait for her first baby word. From here begins the language development; the process of teaching and learning.
The parents are the first and foremost teachers for the child, when it comes to language. The foundation for language is in fact laid during pregnancy itself. Then when a child is born he picks up language from his parents and caregivers. Language gradually develops further as the child begins interacting with the society. Till the child steps out of the house, language development depends on the involvement of the parents. Infants begin communicating through expressions, the moment they are born. The more time the parents spend with the infant the more they will understand the infant’s language through expressions and gestures. As the parents respond to these gestures, the child feels encouraged to react. This way she progresses towards full fledged language.
There are certain simple ways by which parents can help/stimulate the language development of children, some of which are explained here.
1. During pregnancy- The brain of the fetus is sufficiently active to recognize the sounds and speech patterns of its mother’s voice. The child is already familiar with the languages that the mother speaks as these languages she or he has heard as a fetus. So as the child grows he naturally picks up the mother’s language faster. A child can recognize two to three languages while still in the womb. Reading good books and discussing positive thoughts during pregnancy does affect the linguistic aptitude of the child as he grows.
2. Constant talking with the infant- Even though a new born, an infant cannot talk, still a mother never gets bored with her child. The more the mother talks to her child, the more the infant will be encouraged to respond in his own baby ways, like smile, happy hand gestures, responding through babbles etc. Talk to the infant as you massage her, bathe her, feed her or change her. Talk to her while she is playing by herself and you are cooking. Repeat the words. What you talk should be related to what you or the child is doing. If a little bird comes and sits on the window as you feed the child talk about the bird. This way even as an infant, she will begin relating the words with the actions and the things around her. Talking not only helps in language development it also distracts the child not willing to eat or bathe. Also, as you talk to the child and observe her response, you too learn to recognize the child’s unspoken language. This way you too can communicate better as you bond with each other better. Gradually the child tries to copy the ways of the mother; her lip movements, expressions etc.
3. Respond to the infants- Respond to the baby’s gurgle, babble and coos. When you respond to their sounds, they understand that making those sounds help attract attention and this way they can convey their needs. Respond by questioning them as to what they want. Ask them in one word the various options you feel she may be wanting. The child learns these words relating them to his needs and as he grows he knows and tries to speak out the right word for his specific need.
4. Reading and telling stories- Stories help in building up vocabulary. By the age of one when the child can understand simple instructions, begin telling simple, interesting stories. The stories should be attractive to the little one; something which is say about herself, her toys, and the pet, the birds that she sees, things which she can easily relate to. Lots of expression and drama make the story interesting. Reading story from a book should begin by the age of one and a half to two. The story book should preferably be one which has large pictures and less narration in one page. Give the kids time to view the pictures as you narrate the stories. Read stories to the kids even after they have learnt to read. Most kids prefer being read to rather than reading themselves. This is natural because till they are fluent in reading and have developed good understanding of the language, reading by themselves spoils the joy of the story. They may read but not understand fully. So instead of forcing the child to read, read out the stories willingly to keep up his interest in reading. Gradually some day he certainly will read and understand.
5. Ask questions- Ask questions even when the child hasn’t begun speaking, but can respond only in yes and no by shaking her head. When you ask something the child feels stimulated to respond and reply. Ask questions when you tell a story, to know how much the child is understanding; to maintain his interest through involvement; and to nurture his linguistic skills.
6. Sing songs- Kids enjoy rhyme and rhythm as they learn language through these.
7. Listen patiently- Kids who have just begun to form sentences take time to frame and complete a sentence. Give them time to finish what they want to say. If it is not clear, ask her questions lovingly, to now what she wants to convey. Stopping her midway will discourage her. Also if you say you don’t understand her, she may feel frustrated at not being able to explain to you. So patiently try to understand what the child wants.
8. Social mixing- Take the child with you to social gatherings, parks, shopping etc. where she can see how people interact, with her and with each other.
9. Cartoons on TV- Cartoon programs made for toddlers have simple language with easy to follow, simple small sentences. Such programs also help in developing vocabulary and also teach morals at the same time through simple stories.
10. Use correct pronunciation- Even when you are talking to an infant use the right pronunciation so that the child too picks up the right one. This is important because children learn by imitating. Typical baby talk which we adults often speak lovingly while talking to an infant or toddler only confuses him. So it is better to talk to them normally.
Tentative age and pattern of early childhood language development-
- By 12 months- The child speaks Single words; sometimes it may be a part of a single word. The child keeps repeating the new word she has learnt. Understands simple instructions.
- By 18 months- The child develops a vocabulary of 5-20 words and may be some two word sentences.
- By 24 months- The child can name a number of objects he sees around him, including his name. He may speak four-five word sentences though the fluency is still less and often difficult to understand what they exactly want to convey.
- By 36 months- About 90 % of what the child says is clearly understood.