Although every baby is unique, most babies speak their first words within the first year of life. Children, on the other hand, can begin to communicate (if not talk) much earlier, absorbing vast amounts of information through play, observation, and interaction with their parents. This information eventually serves as the foundation for their baby talk. While parents are not required to teach their children to speak, they can aid in their child’s language development by conversing with them.
“Parents can help their children develop language skills by paying attention to infant cues like smiling and looking, looking directly into the child’s eyes, and responding in a slightly baby-like voice,” says Melanie Potok, a pediatric speech and nutrition specialist and prolific author. The high-pitched, sing-song voice that people use around puppies and babies turns out to be a universal way for parents to communicate basic sounds to children and help them learn to speak. Baby talk, on the other hand, is more than just using a sing-song voice. Waiting for the child’s response can assist him in understanding that the conversation is not one-sided.
“Talking back and forth with the baby is the best way to help babies learn to talk,” Potok adds. “You say something while looking them in the eyes, and then… wait.” You can pause for up to three seconds. Speech therapists use this “pause time” to help infants, toddlers, and even school-age children improve their language skills.”