Taking time to talk, by Maggie Redshaw
2011 is the National Year of Speech, Language and Communication, in particular for young children in the early stages of learning to talk. It is important for parents to understand how toddlers begin this journey and what they can do to help guide their child during this exciting time.
Communication is an integral part of life and learning to communicate is something babies do from the moment they are born: first with crying, body and face movements and then with other sounds and gestures, moving on to words and sentences. We all need language skills to learn about and interact with the world, as well as to develop our thinking and ideas. This is particularly true for children. Language helps in categorising and organising what babies and toddlers know and the new things they learn about the world.
It is exciting to hear your baby’s first words and the many that follow, building the fast-growing store of all the words they have to choose from. Your little one’s brain is developing rapidly at this time. At the end of year one some toddlers may be adding several new words every day and at around 18 months old they may be trying out two word combinations such as ‘Mummy look’ or ‘Daddy gone’. By the age of two language skills are typically taking off at an amazing speed. Their sentences will start to get longer and the number of words your toddler knows will be growing rapidly.
While language development is to some extent built in, it is also true that talking and being talked to are really important in helping your toddler’s language skills to develop. Below are some tips to help you encourage them along the way:
- Listening skills are important as well as talking. Remember that babies and toddlers are likely to be able to understand what you and other people are saying before they are able to use the words themselves.
- The more words your baby hears the better his or her language will develop. Nursery rhymes, songs and little games can help a lot and have been designed to do just this. They work well during play and as cues during your daily routine, such as when getting your baby or toddler dressed, changed or settling them to sleep.
- Gestures are an early form of communication that often go with using one word – ‘up’ and ‘doggie’ can have lots of different meanings depending on the context.
Using language in this way marks an important stage. Working out what your toddler is trying to communicate will help them with the next step: putting words together. Toddlers are great at imitating, both what adults and others do and say. Just remember to take care not to say things you would rather not have repeated! When adults talk to babies and young children we often use simplified or exaggerated speech. Developmental psychologists call this way of talking ‘motherese’. Early on this is helpful, though gradually as your child learns, you should do this less. Instead begin to help them by expanding and elaborating what they are saying which will help to provide a ‘scaffold’ for their own language skills to develop. Don’t forget it is important to enjoy being with your toddler as well as helping them learn and progress. Having fun with words, using humour and sharing a joke are also important ways of encouraging them to explore the way they can communicate.
We often think that learning to talk and communicate is easy. However, it is actually harder than we think. Babies and young children have to learn to recognise sounds, make the particular ones that occur in our own language and be understood. They have to learn about what words mean and what they stand for and at the same time learn the rules about how we put words together in sentences. Young children also have to learn to adapt what they are saying to the context in which they are talking.
It is therefore not surprising that it takes a while and that there are definite stages in the process. At the same time, almost every day there is also likely to be something funny, clever or different about the way your child is learning to communicate and how they use language that is worth sharing and remembering.
Maggie Redshaw is the Pampers Village Parenting Panel baby development expert. The Pampers Village Parenting Panel is a group of professionals specially selected from all areas of pregnancy and child development fields, as well as family wellbeing, to help provide media and general public with the latest advice and information to aid baby, as well as parents, during the crucial pre-natal and post-natal period of their life.
More information on the Pampers Village Parenting Panel can be found at www.pampers.co.uk