The very earliest language

Just For Parents

April 23, 2000

Editor's note: Jerdine Nolen today begins a five-part series on language development skills. Her column appears biweekly.

Watching children develop their use of language is to witness an amazing process. Some experts believe language acquisition begins before birth. Strong bonds emerge between parents and their unborn child. The two most prominent sounds in the womb environment are the mother's voice and heartbeat. Once born, the baby generally responds to her voice. Whenever it starts, language acquisition is a lifelong process. For many children, oral language develops because they live with others. Youngsters who have positive experiences with proficient speakers are more likely to construct their own system so they can be understood. Children gain new aspects of language through daily interactions with others.

Many newborns ...

* Listen and respond to voices and other sounds

* Express their feelings by cooing, gurgling, smiling and crying

* Begin to make strong connections with their caregivers

What you can do:

* Listen and talk to the baby throughout the day

* Pay close attention to their "wanting/needing to be heard" cries

* Find out what the baby's sounds and actions mean

* Make eye/skin contact when you speak

* Talk to the baby about what they seem to be saying

* Have conversations about the things you are doing

* Point out objects in their environment and name them

* While feeding, diapering and bathing the baby, take time to sing, recite nursery rhymes, smile and coo in response to baby's smiles and coos

* Provide a rich language environment, but don't overstimulate

* Praise the baby for learning something new.

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