Babies under twelve months may not be able to speak yet, but a lot is going on beneath the crying, cooing, and silence.
Babies start learning about sounds inside the womb
Six months after conception, a baby’s auditory system starts to develop and hear sounds. At this time, they still cannot hear specific words, but they can tune in to the rhythm and intonation of the voices around them, with their mother’s being the dominant source. Their brain also starts to process those auditory patterns, which familiarizes them with their first language.
Babies start to play around with sounds at about 2 months
Humans are born with a brain that is pre-wired to acquire any language. From birth, they are continually processing the sounds around them. Babies will also start to play with the sounds they can produce. You may hear Your Child make vowel sounds such as ahh, ee, and ooh as early as 2 months, before progressing onto vowel-consonant combinations such as boo and tata by 6 months. They also realize that they can communicate their needs through the sounds they produce and start vocalizing different sounds to fulfill different needs.
From 6 – 9 months, they start associating sounds to the objects and context around them
Many developmental scientists and child psychologists believe that babies don’t understand words until their first birthday, but recent studies have debunked the claim. Although 6-month-old infants aren’t pointing or talking, a lot is happening in their brains. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania presented 6-9-month-old infants with generic words such as “apple” and complex images containing the item named. Using eye detection, they found that all infants gazed at the named entity on the picture longer than the other components. At this stage, Your Child might not completely understand everything you say, but the more you verbally interact, the more your little one learns!
Babies start to filter out sounds that are irrelevant to language at 7 – 8 months.
At this age, a child’s brain is now determining between sounds that are a part of language from sounds that are not. Sounds that are not a part of language get weeded out by the brain. This finding also explains why monolingual English speakers have trouble hearing the nuances in a tonal language like Mandarin. By 8 months, most children can successfully detect chunks of words from the fluent speech they continuously hear. A study from the University of Rochester showed that they do this by detecting and piecing together consistent sound patterns. Because their brains are continually developing at such a rapid pace, they can predict new sound patterns in a language in two minutes or less! If you want Your Child to be multilingual, now is an excellent time to expose them to play and allow them to interact with a native speaker for at least 15 minutes daily.
By 12 months, babies will start to recognize their native language(s) and grasp the concept of communication
When babies gradually attach meanings to words and filter out the sounds they hear, their brains start to focus on their native speech. By 12 months, their babbling starts to resemble that language, and they begin to play around with inflections, intonations, and syllable structures. They may also replace their crying with other sounds to get attention.
The first year is the most crucial time for Your Child’s receptive language development
Although babies constantly pick up language throughout their first year, months 6 – 12 are arguably the most sensitive period – this is when their brains are ready to process meaning, words, patterns, and sounds at a faster rate.
Here are 6 things you can do to supplement their learning:
- Copy what Your Child says
Whenever Your Child makes a sound, repeat it back to them while smiling and using facial expressions, and make sure that your lips are fully visible, then wait for them to respond. Doing this will help them understand the essential components of a conversation, such as pausing, turn-taking, calling, and responding. This back and forth is also known as Serve and Respond and so important that the Harvard School of the Developing Child dedicated an entire section on their website to it.
- Label objects and actions with words
Help Your Child pair words with objects and actions by talking to them about their activities or the item of interest in baby language and clearly emphasize the matching word.
- Expose Your Child to different objects and environments
Take your little one to new places, such as the beach, the zoo, or the baby playground, so they can learn new vocabulary and explore new objects and scenarios.
- Talk to Your Child as much as possible
Your baby’s brain is ready to learn languages, and you may notice them looking for sources of sound or becoming increasingly interested in conversations, even the ones that aren’t directed to them. When you talk to Your Child, use simple sentences, ask questions, and vary your intonation. Your little one may not understand everything you say, but they’ll enjoy hearing the sounds you make while watching your mouth and face.
- Allow Your Child to listen to a variety of sounds
Tuning your little one to different sounds will help with their listening skills. Strong listening skills will help their language skills develop even further when they become toddlers. Use objects like bells, rattles, or instruments to make sounds in front of them and towards the left and right of them. After you make that sound, pause, and wait for them to turn towards the direction of the sound.
- Read to Your Child
Reading to your baby will expose them to more words and intricate language patterns they may not hear daily. Choose chunky books with colorful pictures, be interactive by pointing at the pictures while reading to them, and giving them time to stare at the pictures and process the information before turning the page. Never replace a book with a screen.
Ketsupa Jirakarn (Mental health specialist) (31 March 2021)
- The Acquisition of Language by Children, The PNAS
- 6-month old infants understand words, Livescience
- Language Development, Encyclopedia of Children's health
- Speech and Langauge Development from birth to 12 months, Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children
- The Benefits of Reading to Your Baby, The Cleveland clinic