Is Your Child Living in a Language Rich Environment?

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Even though most children do not say any recognizable words before their first birthdays, the first year of life is an exciting and crucial part of language development. By creating an environment that is fun, loving, and nurturing, you can “shape” your baby’s brain and set the groundwork for future learning. Is your child living in a Language Rich Environment? You should be able to answer YES to the following questions.

Are You a Good Model?

Experts believe that you should not use or encourage “baby talk.” For example, it is better to say, “You are hungry, Here is your bottle,” rather then, “Me want baba, so hungy.” Speak clearly, naturally, and most important of all, correctly. Before your baby speaks, he will listen to everything you say, and how you say it. When he starts to talk, he will imitate the word patterns he has been hearing. Modeling the correct way to speak will help your child learn the correct way to speak.

Do You Tune Into Your Child and Follow His Lead?

Your baby arrived with his own special way of relating and discovering his world. Even in the first months of life, babies show a lot of variation in their interests, attention spans, and how they adapt to different situations and surroundings. Focus on your baby’s individual style of communicating with you, and discover the difference between a cry of hunger, and a cry of discomfort; a genuine smile, or a grimace from an upset stomach. It is important to be able to tune into your baby’s earliest forms of communication and respond appropriately in order for him to learn that his needs are important and his behaviors have an effect on others. As your child begins to communicate with you, focus on words and objects that are central to his life, or on which he is focusing at the moment.

Do Melodies Dance in Your Baby’s Brain?

By exposing your baby to music early in life, you may enhance his ability to understand information, hear the differences in sounds, and stimulate his language development. Although your baby is unique and may enjoy many different kinds of music, experts feel that newborns are best comforted by quiet, soothing music. This includes lullabies, love ballads, gentle blues songs, and folk songs. Many of your child’s favorite toys will play music and he will probably enjoy listening to the radio, stereo, or you, as you hum, whistle, or sing your favorite songs.

Are You Part of the Action?

When you play music for your child, sing, dance, and laugh along. While reading a book, use different voices to portray the uniqueness of the characters. Remember that low, gruff voice of Pappa Bear, and that soft, sweet voice of Mama Bear. Show your enjoyment and be part of the action. This will let your child know that you are enjoying the time you are spending together.

Do You Play With Sounds?

Respond to your baby’s verbalizations, mouth movements, and hand gestures with imitation. When your baby smiles and coos, smile and coo back. When he babbles (baba) repeat what he says. At times, add another babbling sound (babaga). You can also vary his sounds by stretching them out, or saying them louder or quieter. When your baby is quiet, make one of his favorite sounds. See if he imitates you. This will help him learn to attend to sounds, and prolong his attention skills as he enjoys listening to you talk to him.

Do You Capture Your Baby’s Eyes..?

before you begin to talk to him. You might call his name or use another attention getter, such as hi, or look, to hold his attention longer. If your baby looks away, repeat his name again to see if he is interested in continuing to play and talk with you. Use only one form of his name, as some experts believe that using more than one form (Tom, Tommy, Thomas) may be too confusing at an early age.

Do You Rhyme While You Dine?

“Pat-a-Cake” and other nursery rhymes offer more then just entertainment. They are one of the earliest forms of communication that a child learns, and experts feel that they may benefit a child’s growth in many areas, including social and language development. Hearing rhymes helps children learn how language flows and builds vocabulary skills. Children listen intently to the rhymes and inflections, which also helps them develop listening skills. Keep your child physically involved whenever possible. For example, point to his body parts and use many gestures.

Do You Keep It Concrete?

Speak clearly and slowly to your child about what is happening around him. If you speak at a slow, but comfortable pace and enunciate clearly, it will be easier for your baby to learn what individual words mean. Also, use short phrases and sentences, so that he may grasp the rules of grammar more easily. However, don’t abandon complex sentences completely. Research has shown that children who were exposed to longer sentences that contained words, such as because and which, learned to express these words earlier then children whose parents seldom used these words.

Do You Repeat, Repeat, Repeat?

Play the same games and sing the same songs. Your baby will soon learn to anticipate your words and gestures. At around six months, your child may acquire a favorite book. Although reading the same book four times in one morning (at your child’s request) may be tiring for you, the repetition will reinforce his learning. Reading the same words over and over again will help him learn to make connections between the words he hears and the pictures he sees. A child must hear a word many times and understand its’ meaning before he will express it.

Do You Recognize and Create Learning Opportunities?

Parents, of course, want to provide their children with many opportunities to learn new things. Going to a zoo, hands on museum, and aquarium will provide your child with wonderful opportunities to learn about the world. However, these usually are not everyday excursions. Therefore, it is very important that you learn to recognize the hundreds of opportunities that exist each day to enhance your child’s language learning. Language learning is not an activity that you set time aside for each day, but, instead, happens all day long as you simply, but attentively, talk to your child as you go about your daily routine activities. To a young child the whole world is new and even the most routine activities can be a learning experience for him. Name items to help your child learn about word labels. (“Dog, See the dog.”) Describe items to help him learn about the qualities of objects and events, such as color and sound. (“Red apple”) Compare objects to help your child learn how objects, events, and people are the same or different. (“This dog is big, our dog is little.” Explaining to your child what is happening will help him learn about action words.(“You are splashing.”) Remember to follow his lead and be a good listener.

All parents, no matter how busy, what their child to grow fully in each stage of development. To a young child, learning is play. By creating a language-rich environment, you can join in the fun rather than passively letting good teaching opportunities slip by. These suggestions will do more then stimulate language development. They help build the loving, close family bonds that humans desire.

by Dorothy P Dougherty

About the Author: Dorothy P. Dougherty, M.A.,CCC-SP is a Speech/Language Pathologist who has worked with children and adults in clinical and private settings. She is the author of How to Talk to Your Baby: A Guide to Maximizing Your Child’s Language and Learning Skills. (Avery/Putnam USA $9.95 available through Ms. Dougherty obtained her bachelor’s degree in Speech Pathology from West Chester University in Pennsylvania in 1978, her master’s degree in Speech Pathology from the College of New Jersey in Trenton in 1980, and her Certificate of Clinical Competency from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association in 1981. Mrs. Dougherty resides in Linwood with her husband and her two sons.