Handbook of Language and Literacy Development - a Roadmap from 0 to 60 Months

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Vocalizing (0-12 Months)click to print Print

Written by: Heather Sample Gosse, University of Alberta

Spend time face to face with your baby. Get down at his or her level on the floor or turn an older baby towards you when sitting together on the couch. Your baby may not be looking at you all of the time but being face-to-face will still encourage more vocalizing than if your baby can just see your legs as you walk by or cannot even see you at all while being held from behind.

Sounds will get you more sounds. Babies learn to wait for a verbal response after they say something. When you make a sound or word back to them they are more likely to continue "speaking". These rounds of vocal turn-taking are the baby's first conversations.

Pay attention to your baby's gestures. Try adding the appropriate word while responding. For example, if your baby is holding his or her arms up to be picked up; say "up" as you pick him or her up.

Model sounds and words for your baby. Make animal and vehicle sounds or some simple strings of sounds like ‘buh-buh-buh' and ‘ma-ma-ma' when playing with a younger baby. Label objects and actions. For example, say "cheese" while feeding your baby cheese. Say "wash" while washing his or her hands. Simple one and two-word labels help your baby learn the link between the sounds of the words and what they mean.

Watch for signs that your baby is using the same sounds to communicate the same message. Remember that the sounds may be nothing like a word that an adult would use in the same situation. A baby may say "eee" to mean "up"! Don't worry about correcting your baby at this point. You can say a word appropriate to the situation for them, like "up" or "more". Your baby is not likely to imitate the word you offer but it is good for him or her to hear it just the same.

Be patient - learning what your baby is trying to communicate is a learning process for both of you. Gradually your baby will communicate more clearly and you will become a better interpreter.