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Infant Language Development
(0-6 months)
How Your Baby Starts Talking

Crying, listening and exploring first sounds are important steps in your infant’s language development and communication. Find out how you can support your baby in her first steps towards talking.

Learn to understand your baby's first noises and crying sound s through the Dunstan Baby Language. Learn why it’s better to talk to your baby in your normal language instead of using only simple words unnaturally slowly spoken. Get ideas on how to stimulate her talking (his of course too) and support your infant’s language development.

Dunstan Baby Language
Crying Sounds are Your Infants First Language

As a newborn, babies use little noises and different crying sounds to communicate their needs. Not only for first time mums it can be quite hard to figure out what that need actually is; even more so when you have a severe lack of sleep.

But there is help. Using her photographic memory for sounds Priscilla Dunstan found 5 distinct “words” that babies use to tell us what they need. Those “words” are universally the same for babies that are under 3 months of age. That’s because they appear when infants reflexes are combined with sound. For example when a baby does a sucking motion while making a sound or even crying it sounds like “neh”.

Those 5 “words” are: 

Neh: "I'm hungry" (is based on the sucking reflex)
Owh: "I'm sleepy" (based on the yawning reflex)
Heh: "I'm experiencing discomfort" (strong "h" sound at the beginning)
Eair: "I have lower gas"
Eh: "I need to burp" (short cry that is repeated over and over; "eh, eh, eh”)

They can be best distinguished in those little noises your baby makes before she really starts crying.

Your Baby Listens to Noises
And Even More to Peoples Voices
Early Steps of Infant Language Development

At about 4-6 weeks, when your baby has settled into home she’ll start lo listen herself much more too and try to find out where all those sounds come from. In her 2nd month she’ll react to more and more sounds: crashes make her jump, music can soothe her. There are also neutral sounds that stimulate her and make her smile more when she feels contend but upset her more when she’s feeling grumpy already.

Did You Know?

Babies who are talked to a lot are more talkative than babies who are quietly cared for, not handled much or attended by someone who often simultaneously talks to an older child. The more they are talked to, the more they will talk to themselves contentedly as well.

The one kind of sound babies usually like the most are peoples voices. So your baby will probably make her first social sounds when you or someone else holds held, plays with her and talked to her. The first response to this kind of attention might just be a smile back and a wiggle but only 2-3 weeks later most babies add some social sounds themselves.

By about 3 months your baby might even start to choose her response and smile back if you smile or talk back if you talk. So your first conversations with you baby will probably be smiling at each other and taking turns making sounds.

Your Baby Keeps Exploring Sounds
Infant Language Development

During the next few months your baby will go more into exploring different sounds. Most likely she’ll first practice open vowels like aaah and ooooh. This is called cooing as it sounds very much like a dove.

A little later she’ll add her first consonants like K,P,B and M to the cooing. This makes her babbling sounding much more like words. She’ll probably also say maaa during this time, but with that too she’s just exploring of sounds. So dads, don’t be upset, your baby isn’t trying to name anyone just yet ;)

Did You Know

Although babies will babble more if talked to a lot, they’ll also babble some if hardly ever talked to (even if they can’t hear).
Your babies babbling doesn’t mean her hearing is normal. You can spot hearing loss only by watching your baby's reaction (or lack thereof) to sounds from outside.

By 4 to 5 months she’ll listen intently when you talk to her and watch you face even if you’re moving around. When you pause she’ll answer with an ever greater variety of sounds and emphasis.

At that point many parents think they need simplify what they say and emphasize particular words. But babies do not learn speech by imitating particular words at that stage. Not easy speech is needed but normal sounding 2-way conversation. Just talk to your baby as if she understands you. That’s the very best way to help her towards doing so.

Foreign Language?
How Your Baby Learns the Sounds of Your Language
Infant Language Development

The amount and what kind of sounds your baby babbles in depends largely on the development and coordination of the muscles needed and how much she’s talked to. Which language or accent she’s talked to probably doesn’t make any difference just yet. Your baby won’t learn your language as much by imitating what you say. Instead it’s your reaction to the sounds she makes that lets her repeat certain sounds more often. English speaking parents will be more excited about English appearing sounds, Chinese about the Chinese ones, Germans will greet the German sounds...

Your baby on the other hand is not trying to say words. She’s playing with sounds and babbling because it’s a social thing to do. Only in the second half of her first year will she start to say meaningful words and slowly forget the sounds that don’t belong to her language. By the age of one most babies will have lost the ability to discriminate sounds that are not in the language that’s spoken around them. Then their tuneful babbling has taken on the sound patterns of the language that they hear.

How To Help Your Baby Talking
Fostering infant language development

At what age your baby will say her first words depends probably more on genes than anything you do. Talkativeness on the other hand depends at least partly on how much she’s talked to by the adults around her. (And the TV is no substitute for that)

This practice she gets through talking and trying words again can influence her readiness for many other kinds of learning.

If you’re not a talkative person yourself and talking to a baby makes you feel a little awkward try the following:

  • Take a picture book and show and name the pictures in it to your baby, what are they doing?...
  • Explain to you baby what you’re doing when you bath her, change nappies, feed her. What body part are you soaping, what are you putting on her? Does she need to lift her arms?...
  • Ask questions. You might get a nonverbal answer. Do you like that? Where is it gone?
  • Talk naturally, don’t over-simplify your words or speak unnaturally slow. That just sounds unnatural. You don’t need to worry about the topic either. Your baby will love to hear your voice, if you’re talking about toys or politics likewise
  • Make sure to find some time to talk and play alone with her. Especially if other kids are around that want attention too. (I know, sometimes not easy, but well worth it)
  • Listen to your baby and answer in words whenever she smiles at you or makes noises.
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