This article was featured in Mother and Child magazine in English and Arabic

It’s an amazing discovery that babies’ language development starts in utero ! Although your baby isn’t saying much (in terms we can understand!) during her first year, her speech and language development has already started!

Researchers have discovered that babies as young as 2 days old pay more attention to words spoken in their native language and are able to distinguish language specific sound differences. During pregnancy your baby hears your voices and other sounds that become familiar to her and will be of comfort to her when she is born. Language development consists of two aspects ; receptive language which is understanding and listening skills and expressive language which is expressing thoughts, words and feelings. Try to provide your child with a word rich environment that fosters both aspects.

Photo By Mariam El Mofty

Your Baby 0-3 Months

As soon as your baby is born the one way she can communicate with you is by crying. Yes, crying is a form of communication, she’s telling you when she’s upset, tired or needs a diaper change. By 6 weeks she’s cooing and laughing as well. She’s also learning about voices by listening to you. By the end of this stage your baby will recognize familiar voices and smile when mom or dad speaks, startle upon hearing loud sounds, and cry differently for different needs.

What you can do: Sing and talk to your baby often. Your voice is a source of comfort for her as babies of this age prefer low vowel sounds. Your baby may start repeating your cooing sounds.

Your Baby 3-6 Months

Your child begins noticing people’s conversations. She starts moving her eyes in the direction of sound, starts responding to “no” and changes in tone of voice, notices toys that make sounds and starts responding to music.

At this point she’s also started to babble and making gurgling sounds. By the end of 6 months her babbling should include many different sounds, including p, b and m. She also starts to enjoy repeating syllables, such as “ba, ba, ba” and uses her voice to express when she’s happy or upset instead of crying.

Baby can also be using sounds or gestures trying to tell you that she wants something or wants you to do something

What you can do: Sing songs that add to her vocabulary. For instance, sing about body parts while holding her foot,hand,fingers,etc.. in turn. Start reading books that include big pictures of people’s faces, talk about their eyes,ears,etc.. with enthusiasm. Read rhymes, this helps develop the listening discrimination skills necessary for pre-reading. Sing silly songs about your day (during diaper changing) to familiar tunes.  Engage your baby in “conversation”, talk to her with enthusiasm and pause for her to respond, this can be really fun!

Your Baby 6-12 Months

Your baby’s language development is progressing fast now! She starts listening when spoken to, turns and looks when called by name and recognizes words for common items like “cup”, “book”, or “juice”. Babbling has also become more speech like, includes more consonants and she’s linking words together “bababab tata bibibi” . She’s also relying more on non crying sounds to get your attention and is using gestures to communicate (holding her arms up to be picked up)

By 9 months she knows what you’re talking about even if she can’t repeat the words herself, she recognizes familiar objects like “cup,eyes,spoon”.She should be responding to requests like “Come here” and “Want more?” and may run ahead to the table when you mention it’s time to eat.

By 1 year she should have one or two words like “mama, dada, hi, look, bye-bye” although the sounds may still not be clear. She should be capable of these consonant sounds “b,d,g,n,m,h,t,k,w”. She may also understand simple instructions, such as “Please drink your milk”.

What you can do: Start finger painting with your baby, this will give her a great time full of new new experiences where you can talk to her about colors, her body parts and narrate what she’s doing. Read Lift-the-Flap and Touch-and-Feel books, this will help engage your child during story time and allow her to participate and express herself by touching and pointing. Start talking about animal sounds “A cow says ‘moooooo!'”. Teach your baby social interactions like waving bye-bye. Practice counting fingers and toes and label objects and body parts while doing so.

Important to Remember

  • Children develop at different rates. Don’t feel alarmed if your child is not following these milestones precisely. For more information on language and speech milestones you can check out the Mayo Clinic’s site as well as the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.
  • If you have concerns, check your child’s ability to hear, and pay attention to ear problems and infections, especially if they are repetitive.
  • Provide your child with a supportive environment to develop these skills. A baby who spends a lot of time indoors in a car seat or in a position where she can not turn to see where sounds are coming from, may lose interest in new sounds and stop noticing them or turning her head,
  • Give your child a word-rich environment but remember that her expression is just as important as yours! Give her a chance to “talk” and answer back. Provide different forms of word-rich activities that include singing, talking, listening, reading and conversing!

A Quick Note on Bilingualism

I won’t go into detail in this post. However, I want to assure parents that learning more than one language at a time does not cause language delay. In fact, researchers are investigating bilingualism as a protection against the onset of symptoms of dementia. Other benefits may exist such as better cognitive abilities since bilingual children have to deal with two languages which puts more computational demands on the brain therefore exercising it more. It’s important to note that second (or more) languages should be spoken by a native speaker so that children acquire the proper vowel,consonant and language sounds.  Usually, one parent is a native speaker of one language while the other is a native speaker of the other so each parent speaks a different language to the child. However, in some cases the parents are also bilingual. Bilingual parents should  keep in mind not to mix two languages in the same sentence! It’s OK to speak two languages, just make sure you complete the sentence or conversation in one language.

Reading with your Baby

I always like to include a reading list which parents can use with their children.

That’s not my Puppy! (Board Book) other series also available 

“Wonderfully entertaining with textures. This is a great, sturdy board book that very little readers will enjoy multiple times.
And, when you’ve explored all you want about the dogs, you can always discuss that cute little mouse who seems to appear on every single page!
Cute, educational, and very, very entertaining.” (Parent Review from Amazon)

Where is Baby’s Belly Button?

“This is a nice sturdy book with colorful drawings of babies with some part of their body hidden. Each page asks, “Where is baby’s …?” Toddlers delight in lifting the flaps to find the hidden pictures. The pictures are bright and cute with eye-catching fabric and wallpaper patterns. A very attractive book, and perfect for that stage when toddlers become fascinated with their belly buttons! My 17 month old has really enjoyed this book. It can be very helpful in getting kids to name body parts, and it’s fun for both the baby and the parents to read. Highly recommended.” (Parent Review from Amazon)

4 thoughts on “Speech and Language in your Baby’s First Year

  1. Hi, i have just discovered your site and find it quite fascinating. I love how you add book suggestions and your piece on bilingualism. I work in Australia – a multicultural country – and am often asked about this by parents and allaying their fears that their child will be delayed in their speech. Is the Netherlands very multicultural? I visited there many years ago now and ate herrings and nasi goreng!

    1. Thank you for such an encouraging reply Lesley! 🙂
      I live in Amsterdam and it is very much a multicultural place. It’s really interesting that children here learn Dutch, English, German and French at school and are able to speak all their non-native languages almost fluently!
      I’m a big fan of how Australia is focusing on early childhood education and there seem to be quite a lot of good resources for parents.
      Would love more of your feedback 🙂

  2. HI, I like you blog. I was looking for this kind of information. The book suggestions are great. I am a new mom, and don’t know what to pick for reading. Jazzakalloxu, sister.

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