The more you talk with and listen to your baby, the
more you help him learn, develop good relationships, do well at school
and be a confident, happy child. For those worrying about how or what
they will say to their baby, help is at hand! Cathy Hamer, Director of
policy at the National Literacy Trust, (www.talktoyourbaby.org.uk)answers
questions from parents about when and how to start talking to your
little one to guide you from birth to creating little chatter boxes!
1. When should I start talking to my baby?
Cathy Hamer: You can't start early enough! Getting
to know your baby starts before birth. As you feel your baby move,
start talking to your bump and encourage your partner to do the same.
Your baby can already hear your voice. Research shows that when babies
are born they recognise their mother's voice and first language compared
to other languages. Singing and talking will help your baby recognise
your voice after birth.
Your baby will find your voice reassuring and enjoy it when you smile
and talk. You can give your child the best possible start in life by
communicating with you baby - talking, listening and responding to your
baby's sounds and expressions. By making a connection with your baby
from the earliest possible opportunity you are starting a lifelong
conversation that will benefit both of you more than you can begin to
2. I'm a first time parent and really have very little
idea when my child will begin to develop language. Where can I go to
find out more?
Cathy Hamer: Babies are
sociable from birth and ill use a range of ways to attract attention.
Your baby's first cry is the beginning of communication. As you look
into your baby's eyes share your thoughts and wait for a response.
Always respond when your baby is trying to communicate. Your baby's
first smile shows he wants you to engage. Babies make social contact
through their facial expressions, movements, gestures and words. This is
the first step in learning to talk. The National Literacy Trust's
www.talktoyourbaby.org.uk website for parents has free fact sheets that
you can download outlining the typical milestones in a baby and young
child's language development.
There's also lots of hints and tips on talking with your baby as well
as activities - such as songs, colouring sheets and nursery rhymes and
ways of sharing books - to stimulate chat and develop your child's
3. I'm going to be a first time mum. None of my friends
or siblings have children yet and so I haven't been around babies much.
I want to do the best for my baby so I'd really appreciate any hints
and tips on how to get started.
The fact that you're thinking about this before your baby is born
shows just how much you care about your important role as a parent as
you already want to do the best for your child. Just put into words what
you think your baby is trying to say and tell you.
him about your everyday activities and what is happening. and watch him
enjoy responding to you with sounds that are the beginnings of
language. Copying your baby's sounds will let her know that you're
interested in what she's saying and encourage her to listen and later
start to make sounds into words. Use short sentences and repeats key
words and as your baby will need to hear a word many times before he can
understand and start to use language. It may not come completely
naturally at first but you'll be surprised how quickly it becomes second
nature to have a conversation with your baby.
Make eye contact,
play games, such a 'peek a boo', chat about what you're doing, such as
naming body parts when you're bathing your baby, share books and rhymes
like 'round and round the garden' - it's all just about immersing your
home in language! Babies are like sponges and learn more in the first
few years of their life than at any other time in their life. By the
age of three 80% of a baby's brain is formed so use this window of
opportunity to talk, talk, talk and give your child the key life skill
4. I don't naturally talk a lot. In fact I'm really shy,
even with my friends. Will this affect my child's language
Cathy Hamer: You're not alone. Talking doesn't come
naturally to everyone. But there's no huge 'art' to it. Don't feel
the pressure to always say something exciting. Your baby will love
making a connection with you and needs you to grow, learn and develop.
Don't forget you know your baby better than anyone Simply talking about
what you are both looking at as you walk down the road or putting away
the shopping will give your baby the opportunity to learn new words and
how words are strung together to make sentences.
well that not all communication is verbal. Smiling at your baby every
time they make a noise and responding to their sounds is a way of
'conversing' with them and building their confidence in trying out their
developing communication skills.
Create a daily routine, give
lots of love, cuddles and play copying games, such as sticking out your
tongue and opening your mouth wide. If you wait and watch she'll imitate
you. Make eye contact and gain your baby's attention when you're
talking with him. Play games in the language that you speak at home.
Above all enjoy your baby and he'll enjoy one to one chats with you.
5. My little boy who is 18 months old hardly has any
language. By this age his sister was speaking in short sentences and
seemed to have a new word every day but he's only got about five.
Should I be concerned?
Cathy Hamer: It is always good to keep an eye on
your child's developing language skills and to be aware of whether they
seem to be progressing and developing new skills. Children do learn to
talk at different rates and there is a lot of variation in 'typical'
development. Usually by the age of 18 months children can understand
words like 'drink' and simple instructions, such as 'give me'. By that
age too they will usually gesture or point to show what they want and
have an increasing vocabulary of simple words, such as, 'daddy' ,'cup',
You can really help your little boy by looking at
books, singing songs and nursery rhymes with him. Encourage him to tell
you the names of things and talk about what's happening when you're out
and about. This will help him to connect language to the world around
him. Repeating and expanding on what your little boy is saying will help
too. If he says 'daddy' you can say 'daddy gone' or 'daddy car' which
shows him how words are put together to make short sentences.
On the talktoyourbaby.org.uk website there's lots of hints and tips
sheets that you can download that will give you ideas for sharing
language and books.
6. I had postnatal depression after having my baby and am
only now, after her first birthday emerging from this difficult
period. How can we both catch up on lost time?
I'm so sorry to hear that you've had such a difficult time. However, as
you're asking this question now shows how far you've come and how much
you appreciate how important you are to your baby.
mustn't be hard on yourself. 1 in 10 mums in the UK experience post
natal depression so you're certainly not alone. Adapting to being a
parent is not always easy, even when you're not suffering from postnatal
depression, and nearly every parent will have experienced days where
they simply don't feel up to communicating with anyone, even their
The good news is that it's NEVER too late to get going! Talk, sing
and play with your baby at every opportunity. Chat about the day ahead
over breakfast, include your little girl's name when you sing songs,
share books together and , talk about everyday routines. Respond to your
child's attempts to communicate. Smiling, showing an interest in what
your daughter's saying and repeating words back to her will encourage
her to make sounds into words.
Play games that you remember
from your childhood, perhaps This little piggy went to market, enjoy
bathtime and doing , play turn taking games like 'peek a boo'. Taken
together, all of these activities will help your little one understand
the basic rules of communication and delight in learning language.