Language Development: How Parents Can Help

reading-to-babyLanguage development begins at birth. You can encourage language skills right from the start by reading and speaking to your baby regularly. Here are some tips you may want to try.


Talk to your baby as much as possible throughout daily activities. For instance, as you wash your baby’s hands in the sink, you can describe every step of washing hands: (1) Let’s turn on the tap… here comes the water! (2) Put on some soap. (3) Wash, wash, wash! (4) Let’s dry our hands. Speak clearly rather than imitating your baby’s babbling. It is always better for your baby to hear clear pronunciations.


I started this with my daughter at three months of age. Even though she did not understand everything, the consistent activity was key to her early language growth and (later on) her reading skills. By listening to the words, babies learn to recognize and repeat them. They also begin to associate pictures with words as you point to them. Children’s books range from simple board books with less than ten words to extensive pictures books with detailed stories and illustrations, so you have much to choose from. Talk about what’s happening in the pictures, and encourage your baby to turn the pages.

Sing Songs

Whether it’s classics like “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” or a song you make up on the spot, singing captures a baby’s attention. Children love music and movement, and their ears pick up language patterns and rhythm within songs.

Listen and Respond

Show that you’re listening to your baby through direct eye contact and smiling. Even if he is babbling, you can ask questions or interact with him verbally.


Point to a familiar object (a ball, cup, etc.) and ask: “What is that?” Pause a little bit and provide the answer. Repeat this every day with different objects and your child will begin to associate words with things. It is an important milestone in language development when your baby can ask for what she wants through pointing instead of crying or acting out. You can encourage this by holding up two toys and telling your baby the name of each while pointing to it. Ask your baby what she wants; repeat the names while pointing. If your baby responds by pointing to a toy, be sure to respond with a big smile.

Play Games

Interactive games like peek-a-boo, pat-a-cake or the classic See ‘n Say pull toy have a hand in baby’s development. Plus, they make learning fun. Online games or televisions shows should not be substitutes for personal interaction, which is integral to learning language. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children under two years of age.

Talk About Baby

Babies are very interested in themselves, so focusing on them is a great way for teaching vocabulary. Talk about the parts of their body or the colors they’re wearing. You can point and name, or make up funny songs.

Take Outings

Expose your baby to new environments outside the home and a whole new array of things. On visits to the park, the zoo or the store, talk to your child about everything you see. Name the animals, plants or grocery items you encounter.

Photo by Donna DeForbes.


Donna DeForbes is a writer, designer and the force behind, a blog that explores ways to make going green fun and easy for the whole family. She is the author of the e-book, “The Guilt-Free Guide to Greening Your Holidays.” Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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