Your baby is listening to you. Even in the womb.
You really can start connecting with your baby through language even before you’re holding him in your arms, and then on through those very early months when you think you are doing nothing more than changing diapers and counting the hours of sleep you got (or didn’t).
Language is the great human connector: it allows us to share our thoughts, ideas and feelings and ideas. How do you tell your newborn you love them? Well, through words, of course.
A baby begins to listen to his mother’s words in the womb.
Scientific research has shown that babies respond to sounds starting when they are somewhere between 25 to 28 weeks of gestation. That means that a full-term baby has already had three months of practice listening to background noise like dogs barking, car horns honking, music and, of course, the biggie – talking. And so the words you say are registering with your child, maybe even before he has a name and is crying out for you.
Keep in mind, of course, that babies in utero are floating around in water so they can’t hear as accurately as we “regular” humans do.
They can’t necessarily detect the different consonants and vowels of words, but we do know that they can pick up on the rhythm or intonation of speech. They can also tell the difference between male and female speakers—men’s voices are generally lower than female voices. Research has shown that babies can even recognize their mother’s voice over other female voices before they are born.
Earlier is better when it comes to fostering that communication link with your little one.
The best way to nurture that link is by TALKING.
Expose your baby to Mom and Dad and a sibling’s voice in the womb. Listen to music, too.
Talk to your baby to get her acquainted with the intonation and sound of mom’s voice—and of course anyone else who’s going to be a star player in your baby’s family life. Exposing your baby to other ambient sounds are good, too, like music and a dog or pet who’s going to be around a lot when baby appears. A newborn baby can actually be familiar with the sound of her family dog barking from the time that she comes out of the womb; your baby is practicing her listening skills even before you meet her.
Once your baby is born and she’s no longer floating around in that big pool of fluid, talking becomes an even stronger connection between mom and baby.
Your baby is starting to become familiar with the voices around her and the sounds, words and sentences she hears, long before she says her first word!
Here are some ways to boost that connection between you and your baby – or your toddler, pre-schooler or big kid and to foster your child’s language growth along the way—
Sing-song voices are good!
You know that sing-song way your great aunt might have talked to you as a child? Academic researchers call this kind of talk “infant-direct speech;” some people call it “motherese” or “mommy talk,” and it turns out your great aunt was right! It works. Academic research has shown that babies respond more to this sing-song, infant-directed speech, as compared to “adult-directed speech”–or the regular way you may speak to a peer. We are not exactly sure why, though it may be because babies prefer sing-song cadences, or simply because these cadences are soothing for them.
Language researchers have shown us that a baby’s early responses to intonation and rhythm can be an important building block for the ability to segment or parse speech – that’s the ability to pick out words from running speech. As babies grow into toddlers, they can use this ability to help them understand and then learn new words.
Don’t dumb down what you say.
Just because you’re talking to your little guy in a sing-song voice doesn’t mean you should use incorrect speech and grammar. Remember, your baby is listening very carefully. So it’s fine to say “see that little bunny rabbit over there,” but don’t say “wittle bunny wabbit.” Use a long sentence such as “mommy’s going to eat breakfast now,” instead of “mommy go eat.” Your baby learns from the words and sentences you model for her.
Talk to your baby and toddler about everything you see.
Tell him about the world all around you. You can go beyond just labeling the things you see and expand your sentences to talk about everything you see, using a varied vocabulary, including descriptive words like adjectives and adverbs. And pssst… talking on your phone doesn’t count! Engage with your baby every chance you get – describe what you see around you, tell your child what’s happening, and talk about the people in your family.
Sing to your baby and toddler.
Babies love rhythm, music and repetition. We know this because research has shown that babies respond differently to words and sentences that are familiar to them, versus to new words or sentences that they are hearing for the first time. So don’t worry about your singing voice –your baby is no music critic. Sing to your baby every day; find a song your baby loves and sing it again and again. You may get sick of it, but your baby won’t – he’ll actually learn and grow from the repetition.
Respond to your baby’s coos, yelps, and babbles and any other sounds they make.
Research shows that the more adults respond to baby’s vocalizations, the more the baby will vocalize. And the number of vocalizations a baby says is directly correlated to the number of vocabulary words that he or she says later on. Practice makes perfect. Keep talking, and encourage your baby to make sounds, because early practice with sounds could help boost your child’s vocabulary growth.
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