Your baby learns to talk during his first two years of life. Long before he utters his first word, he’s learning the rules of language and how adults use it to and baby hispanic
He’ll begin by using his tongue, lips, palate, and any emerging teeth to make sounds (cries at first, then “ooh’s” and “ahh’s” in the first month or two, and babbling shortly thereafter). Soon those sounds will become real words – “mama” and “dada” may slip out and bring tears to your eyes as early as 6 months.
From then on, your baby will pick up more words from you and everyone else around him. And sometime between 18 months and 2 years, he’ll begin to form two- to four-word sentences. As your baby makes mental, emotional, and behavioral leaps, he’s increasingly able to use words to describe what he sees, hears, feels, thinks, and wants.
You can help your child’s language skills along by providing a rich and nurturing communication environment. The most important things to do:
• Talk. You don’t need to chatter nonstop, but speak to your baby whenever you’re together. Describe what you’re doing, point things out, ask questions, and sing songs. (Although using clear, simple speech is okay, resist the temptation to coo and babble. Your child learns to speak well by hearing you speak well.)
• Read. Reading to your child is a great way to expose him to new vocabulary, the way sentences are put together, and how stories flow. As a baby he’ll delight in the sound of your voice, as a toddler he’ll enjoy the stories and pictures, and by the time he’s a preschooler he may even jump in to tell you what’s going on in a book.
• Listen. When your child talks to you, be a good listener – look at him and be responsive. He’s more likely to speak up when he knows you’re interested in what he’s saying.
When to be concerned
You’re the best person to gauge your child’s speech development. If she shows any of the signs listed below and you feel concerned, you may want to discuss the possibility of a language delay or hearing problem with your child’s doctor.
Your child’s doctor may refer your child to a pediatric speech-language pathologist for an evaluation. (A searchable directory of certified therapists can be found on the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s website.) Alternatively, your doctor’s office, daycare provider, or local school might be able to direct you to an early intervention program in your area – usually coordinated through the county or public school system – that provides free screening for language problems.
Some signs to look out for:
6 to 12 months
Your baby isn’t making (or even attempting to make) any sounds or eye contact with you, doesn’t make vowel sounds (“ah,” “eh,” “oh”), doesn’t respond to her name or sounds around her at 6 months, doesn’t babble at 9 months, or doesn’t say single words (including “mama” or “dada”) at 12 months.
13 to 18 months
Your baby doesn’t point to show things to you, doesn’t gain new words, doesn’t have at least six words by 18 months, or loses language skills she once had.
19 to 24 months
By the age of 24 months, your child doesn’t point to body parts, can’t follow simple instructions, can’t copy words and actions, or uses only single words.
25 to 36 months
By the age of 36 months, your child hasn’t started to use two- or three-word phrases, doesn’t follow simple instructions, speaks incoherently, or is difficult to understand.
If your child stutters, it doesn’t necessarily signal a problem. Stuttering is a normal phase, especially when her ability to communicate is expanding so rapidly. Sometimes she’ll be so excited to tell you what’s on her mind that she can’t get the words out fast enough.
But if her stuttering continues past the age of 4, or if it’s bad enough that she tenses her jaw or grimaces in an effort to get the words out, talk with her doctor about it. Most schools will test and help to evaluate your child if stuttering persists for more than six months.
What comes next
As your child grows, he’ll become more of a chatterbox. There might be moments when you long for those peaceful days of speechlessness, but for the most part, you’ll delight in his play-by-plays of what happened at preschool, what he thinks about dinosaurs, and his descriptions of what his best friend likes to eat.
By age 4, your child can speak in sentences of five or six words. He’ll begin to understand and use some of the basic rules of grammar. He’ll tell stories and speak well enough for strangers to understand him. He’ll also know his first and last name. Oh, and get ready for every “why” question under the sun.