baby speech development

Baby Speech Development

Learning by Copying Parents


Babies possess an intense instinct to mimic what they see around them. Just a few short minutes following birth a baby tries to imitate what he sees in your face by moving his lips and tongue. Every facial gesture that you make is imitated by a baby and that is how they learn to smile, frown and even talk. Parents also mimic babies. When the baby responds by smiling we smile back and when the baby waves we wave back at him. Also when he laughs we laughed back. It is a two way process.


Even though we are older than our children we often let them dictate to us especially when they are babies. It is almost impossible to tell a baby when it is time to play as he has his own mind and will do what he wants at that specific moment so we,re often lead by what they want at the time. This gives the baby a sense of power and they use in later life to manipulate us!


baby speech development

Pre-Birth Communication


Prior to his birth, he was obviously very physically close to you and also shared in your emotional state, picking up levels of hormones in your bloodstream and reacting to heartbeat and movement. Unborn babies can also determine your mood by the tone of your voice and adrenalin levels. Prior to his birth, he knows to some extent who you are. I doubt very much that it crosses his mind upon birth, to think who the heck is this large person here! He already knows what you smell and taste like from his time in the womb.


There is much you can do to build a relationship with your baby before he is born. Researches have shown that fathers who speak to their unborn children through the abdominal wall of the mother tend to bond quicker. It has been demonstrated that a baby who has been spoken to like this prior to birth responds to the familiarity of his father’s voice much more than those newborns who have not had this pre-birth communication.


Newborn Baby Speech and Communication


Upon birth, eye contact is established quickly and the baby follows your eyes intensely. He curiously surveys your face and any gestures you make such as twitching your nose or smiling. He learns to imitate these facial movements very fast, and can copy them within minutes of being born. He already knows how to communicate with his hands. This serves two purposes. When he puts his hands on your breasts it actually stimulates the milk to flow. When he reaches for you it means that he wants attention and comforting, food or warmth.


He soon learns that smiling is much appreciated by the parents and uses it to get his own way. He knows that if he smiles you will smile back usually and pay him more attention because it feels as though he’s really communicating with you. And that is exactly what he is learning to do.


The Purpose of Baby Language


The baby starts preparing for speech as soon as he is born. All the noises that he makes including coughing crying, gurgling etc. along with him copying your facial features are the first stepping stones in learning to talk. We participate in these primitive conversations by responding to the cuteness of the newborn with apparently nonsensical phrases some of the time. But upon careful examination, a lot of what we do instinctively in response to baby talk consists of vowel and consonant repetition. This enables the baby to watch our lips and listen to our voices and put two and two together. Any one that has listened to a muffled audio source without comprehending much, and then listened again with the benefit of vision and being able to see the speaker move his lips will understand how sight and sound working in speech comprehension.


Baby Speech at 5 Months Onwards


This type of baby talk continues for weeks and you will notice him picking up new sounds all the time. At about five months old he will start improvise and put different sounds together combining guttural noises with sounds made by the tongue and lips. His voice box is still growing at this point and he is still learning to control the flow of his breath to form sounds. Think about your own speech. Most of it is done on the out breath in a very controlled manner. As you speak you are halting the flow of breath from your lungs in a very sophisticated way. Once we have learned to speak we take this skill for granted. But it has to be learnt by the baby.


At about 7 months old it is possible that the baby has learnt to recognise many words but you may not know this yet. In some cases he will be able to demonstrate his recognition of certain words and even phrases. By nine months old he should be able to positively or negatively respond to words without associated objects. For instance, certain toys he may have a preference for or a type of food or drink. You may suggest Teddy, and he could smile and even nod if he wants it. The more you teach him and play with him at this time the quicker he will learn to talk. Stories, games, nursery rhymes etc., all provide a platform for fun education. His boredom threshold is still very low at this point, so learning has to be fun or he will soon lose interest.


It is quite likely that his first words will be focused on the things he is most interested in. My first word was toast. Not mummy or daddy to my parents disappointment! But it could be any word that your child has heard with great repetition and has a desire for.


The Brain and Baby Speech Development


Contrary to popular misconception, there is not a specific part of your brain that governs talking. Words are merely a code for reality and reality is too big to compartmentalise. Any time that we hear language, even simple phrases such as – “I am writing” – various areas of the brain piece together multitudes of memories and information to make sense of what was said. Everybody’s perception of such a simple phrase such as I am writing, will be different according to their experience.


It is also not just the words but the delivery of the words that convey meaning. Speech is much more than letters pieced together. It has a musical aspect to it. Great actors are very aware of this and can use intonation and pitch to completely change the meaning of a line. Babies understand this from an early age and can pick up meanings and moods not just by the words themselves but by the volume, pitch speed etc. with which they are delivered.


Another very important aspect of verbal communication and one which a baby learns to comprehend quite quickly, is the environmental context. Playing games with children can help them learn the difference between the way that words are said in different tones and volumes.


Word Association and Differentiation


One of the first things a baby has to learn, is to differentiate between words. Ifiweretowritelikethisyouwouldhaveahardtimeunderstandingmeforanylengtoftimeandfinditquiteapaintocontinuereading! There are spaces between written words, but this is not the case in speech. Just as you found that previous sentence difficult to read, a baby has to learn to overcome this same difficulty by listening out for familiar words and placing them in context.


There is actually a piece of the brain set aside for this task. There is quite a bit to it such as learning the flow and tone of familiar phrases and piecing them together to make sense. New words stand out more and more as the child’s vocabulary grows.


Links are made in the baby’s brain as he simultaneously listens and observes. He also follows your eyes as you talk about certain things. For instance, if you were talking about your cat or his siblings, he will associate where you point and look, with what you say. This reinforces links within the brain that put together all this information and make it available to the baby to refer back to. This is how he associates sounds with meanings.


At this early age the baby’s brain is much more advanced than an adults in terms of being able to form links. He is a supercomputer on steroids at the moment, taking in so much more than an adult does because so much more is new.


A Baby’s Desire to Talk and Communicate


Not only is the baby very keen to understand what is going on around him and what the words mean, but he is also eager to communicate himself. At first he does this through body language and crying. Of first importance is getting his point across when he is hungry and that is usually done by a combination of kicking and crying. You will have noticed that there are degrees of discomfort that he expresses when hungry. These have certain tones and rhythms to them which are similar to adult speech in some ways. Although not capable of speech yet, the baby in his first few months knows what he wants and does everything he can to communicate that to you as best he can. But full conversation is a learnt ability involving socialising, logic, memory and imagination.


So learning to talk starts with physically producing sounds and then learning to join those sounds together with the correct rhythm and tone. We take for granted the music inheritant in speech, but few of us speak in monotones. The baby has to learn not only the words but the tunes these words make and the emphasis on different syllables. In many languages, a rise or fall in the pitch of a syllable can completely change a word’s meaning meaning. Desert and Dessert is a good example.


By the time he is nine months old, hopefully your baby will have learnt the two 1st phases of learning to talk, namely physically making the sounds and associating some meanings to them. Once he has a skeleton of a few key words in his vocabulary, he can start piecing together thousands more at a much faster pace.


Baby Body Language


The way we communicate with our bodies can range from a split second glance to an all night embrace. Babies begin to learn both extremes as soon as they are born, by scanning the subtleties in the changes of your face and the comfort, warmth and security he feels when you hold him close.


It is not the physical force of body language that determines its emotional power but it does play some part. Spending time with your baby, skin to skin, forges a deep emotional bond between him and you. The reassurance of your familiar smell and the rhythms of your breathing and heart communicate so much that words could not. You are there for him and that is all he needs sometimes.