The Power of the Spoken Word: Why Talking With Your Baby Sets the Stage for Language Success

By Colleen Brunetti, M.Ed., C.H.C.

Baby PointingAs your baby grows, their receptive language (what they can understand) will develop more quickly than their expressive language (what they can express with words or signs). It is in these early months that you really want to start capitalizing on the engagement that comes with receptive language.

Words communicated to baby are crucial to language development. Studies have shown that it is vitally important that babies hear a vast array of spoken language, even from day one.  In fact, breakthrough work in one study, resulted in a book entitled Meaningful Differences: Children of the Code, (1995, Risely, et al) which sheds light on just how powerful words are. In this study, the authors discovered that the most important predictor of children’s later vocabulary was pure quantity of words heard. Further, it was important that these words included a great deal of encouragement, as opposed to just directions or corrections.

Of course you are going to talk to your baby, but sometimes it can be hard to keep up a steady stream of words in a one-sided conversation! Here are some tips and suggestions to keep the words flowing.

1.    Talk about what you see: Take baby on a stroll, either outside, or just around the house. Talk about the trees, grass, buildings, and cars going by. Whatever catches your eye! Add simple descriptors as you go, such as “I see the green trees. Do you see the red car? Beep! Beep!”

2.    Read: And then read some more. It is never too early to cuddle up with your baby and read a story, long before you might think they are paying attention. What you read does not have to be restricted to storybooks. Read aloud whatever you are reading! The newspaper, some e-mails, a web site, your own book. It is the cadence and pattern of language that is helping here – not the words themselves just yet.

3.     Talk about what you are doing: Keep up a running descriptor of your day. As you change baby’s diaper, talk about dirty diapers off and clean ones on, count bare toes, talk about how the wipes are cold and clothes are soft. With baby lying down and your face in such close proximity, you may find diaper changes one of the best times to connect via language.

4.    Listen: It only takes a few months before baby starts to vocalize. Listen and respond! Treat those sweet coos and eventual babbles as real conversation. Pause when baby begins to make sounds, wait for the sounds to stop, and then respond with some words, just like a spoken conversation.

5.    Sign: Signing Time encourages using spoken language and song while you are signing with your baby. Spending time signing with our videos, books, and flashcards, as well as around the house and around town, offers a very natural way to incorporate more spoken language into your day. As our White Paper demonstrates, you will also be adding to your child’s cognitive and language development in additional exciting ways. As with spoken language, a child’s receptive skills with sign will likely come before their expressive language. Enjoy this time speaking, signing, and learning together!

Scroll to Top