Talking to baby

Some people make the mistake of thinking that because babies can’t talk, there’s no point spending much time talking to them. But studies show that the more you talk to your child from day one, the better their language development is.

In New Zealand, an otago University study found the rich and emotional storytelling ability of Maori mothers is a reason Maori adults tend to have the earliest childhood memories of any culture. The study found that on average, young Maori adults’ earliest memories reached back to 2 and-a-half years of age, while Pakeha memories kicked in a year later. It also found that Maori mothers used more references to time and emotions in their stories to their children than European mothers.

Babies have been known to react to sounds in the uterus during the last months of pregnancy, and soon after birth will associate the sounds a mother makes with feelings of satisfaction. So get talking to your baby – even while you’re pregnant.

Here are some tips to get started:

  • Realise that in the beginning, it’s not words that are important but nice noises and smiles, which show your baby how much you enjoy them. Some mothers find a song they like to sing and sing it often to their baby while they are pregnant. When the baby is born, he or she recognises the song and is calmed by it. once your baby is born, don’t change a nappy without having a conversation or a song. Not only will it reassure your baby, but they will enjoy listening to you. At about six weeks, most babies start to smile, which is when most parents start to really enjoy talking and singing to their baby, who responds readily.

  • Settle down for a chat as often as you can, even if you are just talking about your day and what you have planned or what you are having for dinner. It is all about hearing words and sounds to stimulate their brain activity. At around nine months, when baby starts associating words with sounds, think frequency.

  • Repeat your baby’s name and names of other family members. Words such as “bye bye” and “hello”, which come with hand gestures, are good ones. But keep up the general chatter as well. The simple act of making yourself a cup of coffee can be very entertaining and uses words your baby will soon need, such as “milk”, “cup” and “hot.” By the time they are 12 months old, most babies will use a few words, but mostly hold highly entertaining babbling conversations involving gestures and sounds. Encourage these conversations and interact enthusiastically. My favourite response is to ask, “and then what happened?” to keep them going.

  • Don’t limit your language to simple words or baby talk. You are teaching a language, so use the right words and use lots of them. Babies will pick out the words they need instinctively, so saying, “oummy is getting her keys off the hook for our trip in the car,” will prompt baby’s remark, “oummy keys car.” They’ll pick up the grammar when they’re older.

  • You can use your normal voice; your baby will understand you. You don’t need to talk to them as though they’re deaf or can only hear a high-pitched screech. Normality is the key. Make sure that your conversations are engaging, and capture their attention by taking a tip from the Maori mothers mentioned earlier by being rich and descriptive in your storytelling. Instead of saying, “When you were born we went to the hospital and the doctor delivered you,” talk about how exciting it was to go to the hospital and include details like what colour the room was, who was in the room, and who cried and why they cried.

  • Don’t become obsessed with grammar and vocabulary at this stage. The idea is to use lots of words in an interesting way to encourage your child to use them. It’s never too early to start reading to your child. From an early age they will enjoy the pictures, and well before they can read, they will remember stories. In some cases they will even start to finish the last word or sentences for you if they know the story well enough.

  • Encourage visitors to not only take a turn holding the baby for you but to talk to him or her as well while you get on with things you need to do. If you have older children, get them to sit down and talk to baby about their day. If you feel like an idiot talking non-stop to a baby about your day, you need to get over it. Your baby loves to hear you and it helps you bond with each other. Also, you are his or her first teacher and the more you talk, the better their language skills will be.

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