Language is everywhere around us, babies will absorb language as young children. During the first year of life, there are many communication milestones that babies will meet and even more communication skills that they will be exposed to. In this article, I’ll outline simple language activities you can do with infants that will support language development as well as the typical progression of language development in infants. In addition, I’ll share some obstacles to language development.
Progression of Language Development in Infants
Before babies are born they are absorbing language. Babies will absorb language through their senses. Maintaining eye contact with our babies and they will watch our mouths move as we speak trying to make their mouths do the same thing! In the next section, I will list the typical progression of language development from newborns to 12-month-old infants.
A newborn will hear and make a variety of sounds. They will respond to still soft sounds and may be startled by loud unexpected sounds. Their listening skills begin working immediately after birth. Newborns will cry to express their needs. As we speak to a newborn baby they will watch our facial expressions and I try to imitate them.
Around 2 months old a baby will begin to coo. They may also be smiling and frowning. Making eye contact and speaking to your baby is so important at this stage.
Around 3 months old your baby will begin saying vowel sounds. These new sounds other than crying come as a treat to all parents and caregivers. Your baby will start to show excitement. They may enjoy bathing and other physical care tasks. These care tasks are great opportunities to talk to our baby and tell them what we are doing which is great for language development. Babies at this age enjoy studying faces and will begin to remember familiar faces of caregivers and family members.
4 to 6 Months
Between 4 and 6 months your baby will be producing a variety of consonant sounds. They may sound like they are carrying on full conversations. It is great to encourage this talking and allow for back and forth conversation with your baby, giving them time to respond to your questions or thoughts.
7 to 9 Months
You can begin using baby sign language as a way to develop non-verbal communication. Your baby won’t yet be able to repeat these baby signs but soon it will give them another way to communicate before they have words. You can use gestures as well. Some people are concerned that the use of baby sign language would delay language development and this is not true.
Your baby will babble with more well-formed syllables. This is referred to as canonical babbling. For example saying “mamama” or “bababa”. This type of babbling typically begins around 6 months. Your baby will also start to turn directions when their name is spoken.
9 to 12 Months
Babies at this age love to play peekaboo. You can also name body parts and they can recognize and point to them. At this time your baby may begin to repeat baby signs, simple signs such as ‘more’, ‘done’, and ‘milk’. Your older infant may now point to different objects that are interesting to them and will recognize many words. It’s pretty amazing how quickly an infant acquires language.
Language Development Activities for Infants
We want to support language development in infants through simple activities. The best way to create a rich language environment for your infant is through everyday activities. Language is part of everything we do, and even if we do something that is silent, we can offer language to our baby about what we are doing.
Throughout the whole first year of life and beyond we can verbalize what we are doing while we go about our daily routines. We can have a conversation with our babies by asking open-ended questions. It is also important to sing songs to them. Over time they may even develop favorite songs (I know my twins have!)
We can also offer language experience through sensory play. For example, if a baby is in the bathtub splashing the water we can provide language for that sensory activity. “You are splashing in the water! You are getting wet in the warm bath water.”
Below are simple language activities you can do with your infant throughout different stages of their first year of life!
Language Activities from Birth to 3 Months
From the moment our babies are born (and even before) we can speak to them! Make sure to make eye contact as you talk through the actions you are doing. For example, “I am taking off your pants. I am putting on a new diaper, are you ready?” We recognize that we are doing these care tasks to our baby and by verbalizing what we are doing we are allowing them to be participants in these daily tasks. We can ask them open-ended questions and then wait for a response. They may look at us, smile or show some other sign that they are ready.
We can talk about their actions: “You are stretching your arms so big!” We can make gestures like sticking out our tongue and see if they try to mimic our face, maybe they will try to open their mouth!
Shortly after they are born you can give your baby a tour of your home. Show them the different rooms and talk with them about what happens in each room. Their brain development is already in motion and making connections so we want to provide our baby with rich language experiences using correct vocabulary.
Reading board books is another activity we can do with our newborns. This would be a great opportunity for an older sibling to bond with their new baby brother or sister. We can play beautiful music. Not all of the time, but in different moments. This may lead to you dancing with your baby. Did you know that even identifying rhythms is part of language development?
When you are out and about you may wear your baby in a baby carrier. This is a great opportunity for your baby to hear conversations. They will absorb those conversation skills by observing your conversations.
Language Activities from 3 to 6 Months
We want to continue to talk to our babies and allow them an opportunity to respond. Then we want to acknowledge their response. We may do this by repeating their sounds or saying what we think they are communicating.
When people see a baby they often begin talking to them in what is commonly referred to as “baby talk”. Speech-language pathologists refer to this as “parentese“. Babies naturally like a singsongy voice, but we do not always need to speak to our babies like this.
Language Activities from 6 to 9 Months
The introduction of sign language is another great opportunity for language activities for infants. This is a natural opportunity when you begin introducing solids. Simple signs such as more, milk, eat, done, and sleep will provide your baby with another way to communicate in the upcoming months.
Curious about how you may begin solids? Check out this post about the differences between baby-led weaning and spoon-feeding purees.
We need to continue to talk to our babies and offer them the name of things they see and hear. For example, if someone is in the kitchen using the coffee grinder and they turn looking towards the sound we can tell them “That is the coffee grinder”.
Your baby can now hold a board book in their hands, they may explore the book in their own way and at their own pace. This is normal and we should allow this type of exploration. You may also enjoy having books with no words and just pictures. This will allow you to create your own story while looking at the pictures.
Language Activities for Older Infants (9 to 12 Months)
Older infants are going to begin exploring cause and effect. This is an exciting time! They may start throwing food off of their high chair to see what happens. Instead of saying “no” we may use positive language like “Food stays on our plate.” We may even remove their food dish from the table letting them know that they are showing us they are finished. They will learn that next time when I throw my food I must be finished eating. You will have to do this consistently, it likely won’t stop after just one time!
Your baby is likely quite mobile at this time! A simple game to play would be to make different sounds throughout the home, such as clapping, singing or shaking a rattle and then have them travel towards the sound.
The Importance of a Rich Language Environment
Brain development within the first year of life is pretty amazing. A baby is absorbing social skills, early literacy skills as well as developing their fine motor skills. A rich language environment will support a child’s vocabulary and even their emotional development. By offering language for the experiences we see our baby going through they are absorbing those social and emotional skills. For example, when our baby is sad because they hit their head on something, we can validate and name what they are feeling, “You hit your head, I bet that really hurts. You are sad about that.”
Language Resources: Books
In the beginning, we can offer high contrast black and white books, these are great for the first 4-6 weeks. Preparing your environment with books that have beautiful pictures and books about things in daily life will give many opportunities for relevant language acquisition. Give your baby the time to manipulate and explore books. By offering books you will provide a strong foundation of language for your baby.
Language Development In Utero
Even before a baby is born they are acquiring language. A baby can start hearing within the womb from about 24 weeks old. A baby, even in utero, comes to know the mother’s voice, heart rate, and movements.
Remove Obstacles to Communication
Just like with any skill we acquire, there can be obstacles to developing those skills. Language and communication require hearing and the creation of sounds. Things like the television being on or constant background noise can be an obstacle to your baby’s language development. Just imagine, if there is always noise, how would a baby be able to distinguish where various sounds are coming from?
Pacifiers can be an obstacle to communication. Personally, I have used pacifiers with our twins but I am aware that it could hinder their communication if used too much. It can become an obstacle because it prevents them from vocalizing their needs. In our home, we have slowly limited the amount of times we offer a pacifier and now really only use it as an aid to sleep if they desire it.
As adults, we can be obstacles to language development in our babies. It is important to communicate using complete sentences and correct grammar. This way our baby will have a solid foundation of language.