infant communication

August 11, 2010

Baby Babblin’

Another early language skill that we all experience and hold precious during that first year is babbling. Our babies’ babbles are some of the first experiments with sounds that eventually turn into language. In the video below, Whitney creates a “DaDaDa” pattern of babble and repeats it in a sing sound babble. After a couple repetitions, she adds a new ending to the sign song and repeats that:

These babbling patterns are voice structures that serve as a foundation for speaking sentences at a later date. Whitney has even taken a basic voice structure, the “dadada” and added some slight variations to the end. In this way she invents the idea that a core sentence can have different endings and thereby slightly different meaning. Although her babble has no meaning, it has a linguistic structure that prepares her for finding ways to express herself.

Sounds, coos and babbling are the important foundations for later language skills. The ability to even control her mouth positions to produce a Da or a Ga or a Ma is no small feat. Another aspect is the turn taking nature of the babbles if you simply repeat the babble sounds you here your baby making, you will see how they give you space to finish your turn and then they read that cue and then take their turn. This is important skill for back and forth conversations. There are lots of rich language skill building opportunities to support your budding linguist.

July 23, 2010

Books & Early Reading

As discussed last blog post, there are lots of opportunities in the 0 to 3 period to work on language development. Even before verbal “Conversations” (post 7/7/10), we can help our little ones love books and the reading experience. Early on it does not have to be about the words on the page and naming objects as much as just creating a fun interactive experience with mom or dad. Babies love to hold the book and turn the pages and this should not be overlooked as important early literacy skill. Watch Whitney’s important excitement in picking out and bringing me a few books and then orienting the book so that she can turn the pages:

While reading try to make the experience interactive by going off the page. Books do not have be read linearly from front to back. Make it interactive. There are lots of body parts books that are just about naming the body part like hand, face, foot; instead of just labeling try to help your baby “DO” or use the body part. Babies learn best by doing so get them engaged and interacting with you:

July 7, 2010

Toddler Conversations

What kind of conversations are you having with your little one? At the youngest ages, there is amazingly rich non-verbal dialogue but when it comes to talking we adults are doing most of it. Our toddlers do show a distinct progression in how they share their ideas. From one and a half to two yrs, toddlers usually have very simple and isolated ideas. For example, in the video below, Whitney expresses that she would like me to “sit down” next to her while she eats lunch and then tries to communicate that she does not want her usual nap after lunch:

This conversation is characterized by isolated ideas without much fluency and really no narrative at all. Between 2.5 and 3 years, our toddlers begin to connect their isolated islands of understanding into more comprehensive narratives across events and time. These Narratives go further than just words to describe things. Narratives have a dramatic through line with actors who have desires directed toward goals which take place in a context. Below is an example of Whitney’s new ability with conversation and narrative stories:

Whitney was now beginning to understand how one event leads to another (a storm can create a mess); how ideas operate across time (If the mess was created yesterday; today we need to clean it up); and how ideas operate across space (If the street sweeper can clean up the street, it could also clean-up our driveway). Ideas can now be used to explain emotions (I don’t like that noise from the machines; that noise makes me mad) and for logical thinking (that is fantasy instead of reality). This period is a monumental stepping stone toward mature, rational thinking. You can have conversations on just about anything at anytime and anywhere, so engage your toddler and see what they have to say.

January 11, 2010

Language Development- Part 1

Consider the difference between a newborn and the almost adult-like speech and grammatically complex conversations of a 3 yr old. The transformation in language development in that short 3 years is astonishing. My daughter Whitney went from a limited reportoire of wailing cries to a pointing and gesturing  competent nonverbal communicator (see video At http://bit.ly/4I2R6P ) at one year and a pretty agile conversationalist in her twos where she could express her feelings, try to resolve a conflict with her siblings, negotiate and make her needs and wants known.

Finger Pointing is a early communication tool

Finger Pointing is a early communication tool

These abilities to understand and use language are certainly critical developmental competencies that children must master during the first three years of life. And they don’t happen automatically. As mentioned in the last few blog posts, competences are built by the daily interactions with the multitude of people and objects with which babies interact in their everyday settings.

Early language development is stimulated by the linguistic input that an infant hears on a regular basis. The most proximal and influential of these sources are parents; siblings; other children and adults living in the immediate household; and even  media stimuli (such as Baby Einstein or eebee’s Adventures DVDs) to which infants are exposed. Infants and toddlers are extraordinarily good at acquiring language; and, during this period, they are uniquely sensitive to the quantity and quality of the linguistic input heard.

Even in the first year, although it felt strange for me to be talking out loud at the grocery store describing all the different fruits, their colors and shapes when Whitney was just staring at me and not speaking back, it is definitely worth the strange looks—the more language the better. Even before birth, babies have been eavesdropping on their mother’s conversations and show a distinct preference for their mother’s voice and their mother’s language. At birth, babies are predisposed to attend to sound and language. Newborns respond to vocalizations and sound around them and recognize the voices of their mothers and fathers. In the first months of life, infants show a preference for “parentese” a type of vocalization that is high in pitch with a sing-song quality.

Babies are primed to analyze the language streams coming at them all day. Nature has given them the tools to absorb the jumble of language and break it into parts. They actually find the boundaries of sentences, where one ends and the other begins. They recognize the units or words within the sentences. Whenever I was with Whitney I would be sure to talk about whatever we were doing throughout the day – as I was feeding, dressing and diapering or bathing her.  Hearing the sounds of the words wires her brain for language even though she doesn’t know exactly what the words mean. One of the first words that babies recognize is their own name and it turns out that this is a big deal for their language development.  When you hear a new language coming at you, it helps to recognize one or two very frequent words. Then you can use your name as a wedge into the language stream, recognizing that new things come before and after your name.  Babies benefit from this same strategy, so use your Baby’s name often!

On the expressive side of language development, infants experiment with making sounds and communicating. They begin by making some rudimentary “coo’s” and “ah’s”, and progress through various stages of babbling. First comes the back of the throat vowel sounds (eg “aaa”, “eee”, and so on); then around 7 months come the first consonant sounds (ba, ga, ma) as babies close their lips when sounding. Babbling is an important step on the way to controlling the voice box (larynx), tongue, lip position and volume. There is a lot of work to be done before that first word can pop out – - usually between 10 and 15 months of age. Before they use words though, they will also display their understanding of your words and communicate with non-verbal gestures and actions.

During the first year, babies discover that they have thoughts and needs of their own and learn how to share these with others. They figure out that they can use language and non-verbal communication to make things happen in their world! Baby Signs is a very popular trend where babies use gestures to indicate ideas like “milk,” “eat,” “more,” or “change me.” Research has shown that teaching signs helps give babies a way to communicate before the entire orchestra of oral sentences and words are able to be expressed, and paves the way for using other symbol systems to communicate- such as verbal or written language. When your baby starts pointing and gesturing probably around 10 months, you can start by introducing a small number of signs. The more you use the sign, the more likely it is your baby will learn it.

More on language development in next week’s post….