How to Talk to your Baby

It may feel funny, but learning how to talk to your baby is vital to her future language and cognitive skills.  And it’s not just hearing words that make the difference.  Direct communication with your baby while making eye contact, using gestures and moving are much more effective than overhearing conversations, television or audio recordings.   So knowing how to talk to your baby to maximize their learning potential is essential starting at birth.

Studies have shown that the more words a baby hears, the smarter they will be.  This includes their communication skills, vocabulary and overall cognitive ability.  While simply hearing words all day is OK, there are some important components to improving a baby’s understanding and eventual articulation of words.

How to Talk to your BabyThe first step is being as animated as possible.  Just like anyone else you may talk to in your day, make eye contact with your baby.  She’ll be much more interested and attentive if you are looking into her eyes.  Use hand gestures too as this will further engage her in the words.  Think of your baby as someone who speaks another language and act out what you’re talking about.  If you ask your baby if she’s hungry, pretend you’re eating.  If you want to show your baby an airplane flying by, point up to the sky.

Most people tend to raise the pitch of their voice, elongate words and repeat key words when speaking to a baby.  While you may feel silly once you notice you’re doing it, research shows that may actually help babies learn better.  The change in tone, inflections and accentuation captures a baby’s attention so they are more likely to focus on what you’re saying.  It’s natural to want to dumb down your word choice so a baby can perhaps pick up on some of what you’re saying, but try not to do that.  Hearing a range of words including some that are complex is the best approach to language development.  You can also try saying the complicated word and then rewording it to make it more easily understood so your baby gets the best of both.

Try to engage your baby in a conversation as the back-and-forth rhythm of conversing is one of the best ways to develop language skills.  If your baby shows interest in an object or actions you’re doing, start a conversation about it.  Show her how things work and involve her in movements.  Verbs are very hard for babies to learn but if you say “crawl” while she’s crawling, it will help.  If your baby is babbling, listen to her words as if she’s making complete sense and then respond with real words.  Keep the conversation going as long as she wants.  You can even turn her nonsense words into something intelligible to start making associations between sounds and words.

The last crucial part of talking to your baby is consistency.  Talk to your baby all day, every day.  If you’re not sure what to say, describe every step of what you’re doing in your day.  Work on identifying body parts, foods, animals and their sounds, colors, shapes and everything else you come across.  One day you’ll suddenly realize you’re your baby actually understands what you’re talking about and she’ll point to her toes or a square when you ask.  It’s amazing!

Also, read to your baby.  With a newborn you can read the newspaper or any adult book you happen to be reading.  As your infant grows a bit older, read baby books with vibrant pictures or recite nursery rhymes or songs.  The repetition of words in traditional children’s stories, rhymes and songs are helpful for language development.

People around you may find it odd that you’re blabbering on and on to your baby, but you know you’re doing the best thing for her.  Talk, talk, talk and when you think you cannot talk anymore…talk some more!