Simple Ways To Track Your Baby's Communication Skills
By M.E. Vier
Hearing your baby utter his first word is a memorable event. And what
parent hasn't wished for -- and encouraged -- that moment to come
sooner than it does? But it's important to remember that babies develop
language skills at their own pace. There are tremendous individual
differences during the first year of life, says Dr. Roberta Michnick
Golinkoff, director of the Infant Language Project at University of
Delaware and co-author of How Babies Talk
not to say that a parent can't create a supportive and interactive
environment for language learning. Doctors Golinkoff and Kathy
Hirsh-Pasek (the other co-author of How Babies Talk
director of the Infant Language Laboratory at Temple University) are
two key researchers in the field of baby language comprehension and
development. They've designed some simple tests that a parent can do at
home to help gauge and enhance language development. Below are a few of
the exercises to try during the first year. (For an accurate reading,
make certain your baby is alert and well-rested.)
In the event
your child doesn't respond to or make progress with these exercises,
speak with your pediatrician about her hearing and vocal sounds. Ear
infections are very common during the first year and, according to
Golinkoff, recurrent ear infections can impede language development.
But hopefully, these exercises will only prove to be playful,
constructive and full of promise.
- Newborn to Three Months According to Golinkoff and
Hirsh-Pasek, babies crave interaction and will even try to elicit it
with certain sounds. To see if your baby attempts to evoke interaction,
place yourself in a position that is conducive to talking to her (no
more than 18 inches away from her face) and do not say anything.
Present your baby with an expressionless, still face. Listen and look
for a reaction from her that may be interpreted as an attempt to get
you to socially engage. For example, your baby may make sounds or move
her arms and hands.
- Four to Eight Months Babies learn a language by picking
up on stress patterns in words (to remember the sounds that they'll
eventually associate with a person or object). To determine if your
baby is beginning to understand the meaning of words, see if he
differentiates his name from a name with similar and different stress
Stand to one side of your baby, so that he has to
turn his head to see you. First, say his name. Does he turn toward you
(and note his expression -- expectancy or blank)? If he does turn his
head in your direction, wait for him to return his gaze to its original
position. Say his name again. What's his reaction?
Now, say a name with a similar stress pattern (e.g., if baby's name is MAry, say TIna).
he recognizes his name, he may also react (turn his head toward you) to
a name with a similar stress pattern. Then try a name with a different
stress pattern (DiANE). If he is beginning to remember stress patterns,
he shouldn't turn toward you when you say a name with a different
stress pattern. If he does acknowledge the name with the different
stress pattern, it's possible he cannot yet differentiate his name from
- Nine to Twelve Months During the last months of the
first year, babies become more interactive and initiative. They
communicate more with social overtures -- most commonly by pointing or
another physical gesture, accompanied by some vocalization and eye
gaze, to achieve an end. According to Golinkoff and Hirsh-Pasek, during
these months babies learn that the intention of a point is not the
pointing finger, rather what they see when they follow it.
find out if your baby understands the purpose of the point, direct
attention with your finger to an object within close range. Don't point
to an object that is making noise (e.g., radio, television, phone,
etc.) because your baby may follow the noise rather than your finger's
aim. Does she look at the object to which you are pointing? Or is she
looking at your finger? How does she respond?
You can find more tests like these in How Babies Talk: The Magic and Mystery of Language in the First Three Years