Encouraging Your Baby's Vocabulary Development

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Baby’s First Words

There is no way to magically predict when your baby will begin speaking or what will be his or her first word. However, there are strategies parents and childcare providers can use to encourage a baby’s budding vocabulary.

Babies’ first words tend to relate to people and objects that are important to them. Examples of common first words include: mama, dada, ball, cup, and dog. Certain sounds emerge earlier than others, including /p/, /b/, /m/, /h/, /w/, /d/ and “y”. Early first words tend to include these sounds. One way to encourage a baby’s first words is to use words beginning with these sounds frequently in daily interactions.

Monkey See, Monkey Do.

For a baby who hasn’t used true words yet, teaching animal sounds and other nonspeech sounds is a good place to start. Making a panting sound (for a dog) usually works well because it doesn’t require articulation. Other animal sounds and car sounds can also be effective.

Whenever a baby makes an attempt to communicate with a gesture, nonspeech sound or a real word, acknowledge it. This is critical! By saying something like, “Yes! Monkey says ‘ooh ooh’.” you’ll give a baby essential affirmation. Another way to encourage communication is to imitate the sounds that she makes. If the baby makes a panting sound upon seeing a dog, pant right back! You may get a couple of strange looks at the park, but imitating the sounds that a baby makes is an excellent way to teach him to imitate the sounds that you make.

Speaking so Baby Will Listen

It’s imperative that a baby be spoken to throughout the day. It is best to talk about what the baby is interested in, not necessarily what you are interested in. Follow his line of sight. If he is gazing at a mirror from across the room for example, carry him over to the mirror and talk about it. If he is interested in watching you fold laundry, your conversation could go something like this:

“I’m folding a shirt.” (pause)

“It’s Daddy’s shirt.” (pause)

“It’s a navy shirt.”

Use short sentences, but not necessarily simple words.

Speech Routines

Babies love routine! Incorporating speech routines into daily activities will facilitate language development. For example, smooching a baby’s foot after bathtime and saying, “Kiss your foot” will not only send the baby into fits of giggles, but teach her about body parts. Other examples of speech routines include saying “night night” to important people, animals, and toys and saying “Boom, Boom” with each step as you carry baby down the stairs. Using speech routines will not only encourage your baby to begin speaking, it will also elicit smiles, giggles, and fun. As she learns to anticipate these events, they will become an important part of her day, and probably yours, too!