Sunday, October 27, 2013

Let's talk (and talk, and talk, and talk)

One of my favorite parts of having a baby was that I always had someone to talk to.

Previously, I was the crazy lady in the grocery store muttering to herself (for the record, I was trying to remember what dinners I was making that week). After having my son, I was that good mommy who kept up a running conversation with her child. All. The. Time.

My son spoke early and often. And I take total credit for it. I asked him questions, pointed out the world to him and kept up a narrative of everything we were doing like a bad '80s cartoon (seriously, go back and watch them - they tell you everything they are doing as they do it.)

The studies that show how parents influence their child's language skills are numerous. But lots of parents have trouble figuring out how to talk to their baby. So here are some tips that worked for us:
  • Make sure you are talking to your baby, not just around your baby. Your child picks up more words and context from you directly talking to him, rather than just listening to adults talk in general.
  • Narrate everything. And I mean everything. Have you ever pretended that you were on a cooking show and that you had a studio audience? (I can't be the only one.) Well guess what? Your baby is now your audience. Put on a cooking show, give a speech for earning the mommy of the year award, convince the world why you should be elected supreme ruler.
  • Don't ever use baby talk. Enunciate your words correctly the way you want your child to say them.
  • Words matter to babies; knowledge doesn't. Your baby is not going to fact-check you when you start talking about the different trees in your neighborhood or types of clouds in the sky. (But you will want to learn those facts later on when your child is 3 and repeats everything you say.)
  • Learn new words together. Go to and sign up with them to learn a new word every day. Use it often around your child (now you are both learning).
  • Sing or read aloud. If you have really run out of things to say, start singing or reading a story to your baby. It doesn't even have to be a baby book - inflection matters at this point, not plot.
Now that my son is older we still use a lot of these tactics with him. Yes, I do have to look up the answers to a lot of his questions now (I am, evidently, missing a lot of elementary science knowledge.) But I still like him to learn new words, because it makes me crazy proud when he is able to tell his teachers what an ichthyologist does or when he uses "substantial" correctly in everyday conversation.

What other tips do you use to help your baby/child build their vocabulary?

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