Did you know that some developmental experts believe that learning language starts in the womb? With the cadence of your voice, it's possible your baby is hearing your accent, inflection, and more while you're pregnant. Once born, language development really takes off and just by spending time talking to your baby, you're helping her learn more every day.
Even before babies can actually talk, they are able to communicate. You help this process along by speaking to your baby regularly. Don't use baby talk, but speak in conversational, friendly tones that are pleasant to listen to. You may not realize it, but your baby is paying attention to your every move—and sound.
The first year: Months 0-3
When babies coo and gurgle, blow bubbles and squeal, they are communicating. In fact, they are trying to imitate you. Talk to your baby throughout the day. Not sure what to say? You can talk about your day, narrate what you're doing ("Now, it's time to fold the laundry!"), sing, or even chat with your baby like you would to a friend. The important thing is that your baby hears you talking—the subject is up to you. It's important that you do the talking, not a TV or radio. Even you talking on the phone doesn't have the same effect.
The first year: Months 3-6
Your baby's development is moving forward at a rapid pace and even though she still can't talk, her understanding of the role of language has increased. She now realizes that talking is a way to communicate and relate to each other. Keep eye contact with your baby as you talk to her and watch her try to mimic the sounds you make. When she tries to repeat your sounds, repeat them back to her. This reinforcement lets your baby know that she has communicated with you, which is an important part of her development.
Say your baby's name to her as you talk, play and teach her. Your baby will learn to understand words as you put meaning to them. For example, when you show her a mirror, say her name. When you show her a toy, use words to describe it like 'soft', 'orange' and 'round' for her favorite ball.
The first year: Months 6-9
Your baby will be trying out words on her own as she gets older and understands more about language. You'll hear her say things like "dada" or "baba" – before you'll hear "mama" only because the 'd' and 'b' sounds require less mouth control at this age. When you speak in anger, your baby is now old enough to get that your tone is unhappy. She may even cry in response. When you're happy, and speak in happy tones, you'll get a grin in response. She's starting to realize that language and emotion go hand in hand.
The first year: Months 9-12
By now, your baby probably has a few words under her belt. Even if she can't say them properly yet, she knows what they mean and she'll use them! "No", "Momma", "Daddy" and "bye bye" may be among the words she's babbling to you. She may also be combining her words with gestures to reinforce their meaning, such as extending her hands up when she wants to be held.
It's important that you help reinforce her sense of being understood by talking back to your baby. When she babbles, acknowledge that she's saying something and show her what she has to say is important. This will help teach her that there is value in speaking and communicating, and will model how language is supposed to flow.