Tips for Promoting Language Development With Your Baby
By Berenice Moreno, M.S., CCC-SLP
This blog post is guest written by Berenice Moreno, a bilingual Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) and mother of three. She has a M.S. in Communicative Disorders, a B.A. in Child Development, and a minor in Special Education. She has been an SLP for 9 years now and has worked in a variety of settings including Early Intervention, clinic, and schools. Her passion is working with bilingual families and students and helping them honor their languages and cultures. Stay tuned for other posts from this series!
From the moment parents find out we’re expecting, we begin to do everything in our power to have a positive effect on our baby’s learning and language development! From talking to the baby when still in the belly, to repeating “mama” or “dada” once born, to eventually sitting down and reading books together, we are constantly working towards this positive language development- sometimes, without even realizing it. However, as our little ones get older, we tend to ask ourselves what we can do to help boost their language development.
As a mom of three, I can relate to being a parent in this situation. As a bilingual Speech Language Pathologist (SLP), I have parents ask me this question all the time. The truth is, there are many ways to enrich our baby’s development, but the most essential learning occurs during their daily routine activities.
Here are a few tips you can incorporate into your daily routines to help stimulate your baby’s language development:
Narrate what you’re doing during routine activities
Try and narrate what you're doing throughout your day. We tend to complete routine activities in silence, but these are great opportunities for your child to hear familiar vocabulary and practice new words associated with these activities. So, whether you are dressing your child, changing his or her diaper or preparing lunch, go ahead and describe what you are doing. For example, “I’m making us a yummy sandwich for lunch. Do you want yours with cheese? Let’s add some tomatoes too!” or “Let’s brush our teeth. We want our teeth to be clean! Here’s your toothbrush.” Narrating activities that you do regularly will help your child associate the words to these activities they repeat over and over again, helping them grasp their meaning.
Repetition is so important when learning any new skill, particularly when it comes to language learning! Repetition can mean reading the same book many times, playing the same game, listening to the same songs or simply repeating the same words constantly to your little ones. It can also mean choosing books with repetitive phrases or rhymes like Binibi’s musical books. You will notice that pretty soon, your child will memorize the rhyme or finish the words to a familiar song. So, go ahead and sing the same song and read the same children's sound books a million times. This will help your child learn the vocabulary and expand his or her language skills!
Comment more than question
Avoid making every day a test by asking your baby a ton of questions. Instead, comment on what he or she is doing or observing. Though well-intentioned, parents tend to ask their little ones lots of questions when reading or trying a new activity. You may catch yourself asking questions like, “What’s that?” or “What color is it?” Instead, try to remember to comment more than question. For example, “Look at the little, brown dog playing with the ball” or “Wow, that’s a big red truck!” As you read Binibi's Los Pollitos Dicen book, for instance, you can point to the chicks and say, "There are the little chicks, los pollitos, waiting for their mother hen!" Try to limit your questions by making two or three comments for every question you ask. This will help promote your baby’s comprehension skills as well as their expressive language skills!
Make the effort to incorporate reading into your daily routine by choosing a time that works best for your family and sticking to it as your designated “reading time”. For most people, that may very well be during the bedtime routine when parents need a way to wind their little ones down! Encourage your child to choose the book they want to read- young children can point to the book when given two choices while older children can pick one out for themselves. Reading is a great, effective way to introduce new vocabulary to children in any target language and create consistent exposure that is needed for language learning. If you are raising your child with the Minority Language at Home approach, you will be selecting a book in your target language. You can also read bilingual books for kids by alternating the language in which you read the book each night! For more tips on reading a bilingual children's book, check out the Tips when reading a bilingual book blog post.
Like with most things in life, consistency and practice are key for language learning! Exposing your child to the target language as often as possible will give him or her more opportunities to learn it. While it may take you a bit to get into the groove of implementing these tips into your day-to-day life, once you get the hang of it, it will become second nature. These small changes will begin to lead to big results in your child’s language development and the extra effort will have been well worth it!