Newborn Basics

How Can I Help Baby Learn To Speak?

I can’t wait for my baby’s first words. Is there any way to help her learn?

The best way to help your little one along the language path is just to spend time interacting with her. New York City pediatrician Preeti Parikh, MD, says every baby is different, but during the first year, you probably won't hear identifiable consonant sounds until nine months and words besides "mama" and "dada" until 12 months. It may seem silly to babble away to someone who can’t talk back, but time and time again, studies have shown that baby is constantly learning from what you say. Here are some other tips to ensure your little one morphs into a verbal genius in no time.

Talk baby to me. A University of Iowa and Indiana University study found that by listening and responding to whatever you think your baby is saying, you’re letting baby know she can communicate, leading her to make more complex sounds more quickly.

Pull out the big words. Though terms like “serendipity” may seem out of her grasp right now, starting with the more complicated words early can help baby pick them up quicker. It may take hundreds of exposures to big words, but the sooner you start, the sooner your little one will learn them. Studies show 18-month-olds learn an average of two to five new words per day.

Don’t rely on TV. While educational programs can certainly serve as a supplement (and a well-deserved rest for mom), they can never replace the face time you spend with your infant. A study of the popular video series “Baby Einstein” found that children who watched the DVDs regularly understood an average of six to eight fewer words than children who did not. Even the smartest TV shows are no substitute for you.

Make your household multilingual. Hope that baby will be a globetrotter some day? Research shows that children’s language-learning ability diminishes greatly after age 10, so it’s never too early to start learning a new one. Children who are exposed to multiple languages early on often go on to speak them fluently later in life.

Play games. Language doesn’t have to be serious business. Have fun with baby — sing songs, learn nursery rhymes, or just plain make sounds — anything to expose her to new ways to use words. Reading books is crucial too.

Visit your doctor. Early language experience is crucial for your little one, so make sure that she’s hearing you clearly. The sooner any potential hearing problems are detected, the better.

By Preeti Parikh, MD, pediatrician at Pediatrics of New York, Assistant Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Medical Director of Programming at HealthiNation.com