Words With Kids: The Mystery of Learning Language

My sweet son.
My sweet son.

I remember over a decade ago when my son started to coo. He was a super chubby, bald baby who loved to be snuggled. And suddenly, he began to make new noises. All I’d been hearing for several months was a lot of crying and tiny squeaks. And then the coos began. And then the “da da da da da” of babbling. Before my very eyes, my baby was learning to communicate with me and others around him. He said his first word, “doggy,” followed by “woof” at around a year old. By two, he was stringing words together and then was off to the races with complete sentences after that. In just a few brief years, he’d gone from a crying newborn to an articulate preschooler. I didn’t teach him any language, and he had no formal lessons.

How did he do it?

Stages of Acquisition

If surrounded by people who talk to them, babies will automatically learn how to talk without any interventions at all, and the way language is acquired is very similar throughout the whole world. (If no one speaks to a baby, he will not learn to talk.) Children begin with babbling. The sounds they make are universal around the world. They way we react to our kiddos babbling is what encourages them to continue communicating. They learn very early on that their sounds mean something to us and are bolstered by our reactions.

Then, our babes progress into one-word communication. They learn which words elicit positive reactions, and repeat those. Mama, Dada and hi are popular early words. Already, our children can distinguish between different sounds around them, and can understand basic sentences. It’s amazing to think that the framework for language is already in their brains!

Now, they jump right into putting two words together. At this point, they aren’t just talking to get a reaction; they are talking to communicate with those around them. They’ve got things to say and the means to say it! At this stage, they are learning so many new words, and we are realizing that they’ll never be quiet again.

Finally, they are putting words together in complete sentences. The grammar may not be totally correct, but they are communicating fluently. They are learning 10-12 new words per DAY, and have a good grasp on the meaning of individual words. Now, we know we’re in trouble as our precious child is telling us about everything. As they continue to grow up, they will continue to grasp more and more as they learn about plurals, possessives and other parts of speech.

What To Do If Your Baby Isn’t Speaking

All children have a different time table for the above stages. However, there may come a time that you feel concerned that your child is not meeting the expected milestones. If you fall into that group, speak with your pediatrician. Your doctor can help you decide if your child needs evaluations or any additional support. Also, you can contact the Early Intervention clinic of Colorado Springs here.

Best Practices

Knowing that our children will learn to speak without our teaching them takes a lot of pressure off of us as parents. However, there are a few things that we can do to create the best environment for our kids to grow in their communication.

  • Talk to your baby. Use a wide variety of words and cover many subjects.
  • Read books to your baby. Hearings words and stories help them learn.
  • Sing songs and say rhymes.  

These suggestions foster a deep connection between you and your child. And that is what communication is all about: connection.

This is the fifth th in a series about communication between you and your child. Why focus on communication? Brazilian educator Paulo Freire says it best: "Yet only through communication can human life hold meaning." We talk to our children from birth; we spend countless hours and millions of words communicating with them over a lifetime. It's critical to our success as parents to communicate well. Our conversations and connections give lives meaning for both us as parents and our children. Over the next several months, we will continue to explore ideas of what good communication looks like in different facets of parenthood.
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Gretchen has lived in Colorado since she was 12 and never wants to leave. She has a 13-year-old son who is into having a good time, especially with sports and Fortnite. Together, they are navigating the teen world of puberty and growing up. She has a wonderful husband, having been surprised and blessed with a second chance at love. Their family enjoys playing board games, watching Avengers movies, and sharing dumb jokes over good food. In her free time, she loves to read, shop for purses, play games, watch football, laugh with her family, cook delicious food, and dream of the next home improvement project.