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Talk To Me, Baby! Teaching Your Child Words

Simple ways to encourage your little one’s language development—from the very first babble.

Be a narrator. Throughout the day, explain to your baby what’s happening around her. You might tell your 3-month-old, "Mommy is fixing your bottle. You are ready to eat. Here is your bottle,’" says Monica Bein, a speech-language pathologist in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He may not understand now, "but eventually, a child will pair the word ‘bottle’ with the object and the fact he’s getting ready to eat."

Talk back. "The best way to encourage language is to reinforce babies’ attempts to communicate from the very beginning," says Bein. "Once babies learn that communication gets their needs and wants met, they attempt to communicate more and talk back." For instance, if your baby babbles when you greet her in the morning, you might respond, "Good morning to you too! Ready to get out of your crib?" And when she coos back, you can say, "Okay, let’s go," as you pick her up.

Name everything. "Name things your child touches and interacts with," says Bein. Before you start feeding her a snack, hold it up and say "applesauce," or pick up her fleece and say "sweater."

Enjoy story time. It’s something speech and developmental experts recommend time and time again: Read to your child. "We started reading books with our kids from the time they were too little to even sit up by themselves," says Michael Huber, a father of two in Farmington, New Mexico. "Even though they didn’t really say words until they turned 1, they definitely had a huge vocabulary of words that they understood—like ‘conductor,’ which was in one of the books we read a lot."

Listen Up. "We get so good at interpreting our babies’ nonverbal signals that they don’t have to speak verbally to get their needs and wants met," says Bein. So give your baby a chance to use her own voice to ask for things. This goes for toddlers, too, says Bein: "Pause when you know she wants something, and pay close attention to her as she tries." Then repeat what she says back to her, using the correct words: "Orange juice? Do you want orange juice? Here is your juice."

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