Help Your Child Talk: From First Words to Sentences

Welcome  to  Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter: this week’s extract from the SpeechContacts Kindle and your chance to learn more about the way your child learns to talk. 
This week’s extract highlights some of the words and phrases you’re likely to hear your child use when he’s 1 – 3 years old. He’s learning fast during these months. Remember that he has to hear your speech repeated many times before he uses any of these words or phrases himself. 
Listening comes before speaking
The first words your child uses are labels for things. “Cup” “shoes” and “teddy” are simple labels called nouns and they represent the things he finds familiar. 
During his second year, he uses quite a collection of single nouns, until by his second birthday he has as many as two hundred words in his vocabulary.
First phrases
Single words are not the end of the story. We don’t usually talk in single words. We use sentences. After a few months of naming things, your child moves on to putting 2 words together.
A 1 year old often uses groups of words, such as “up we go” or “here it is”. These, though useful, are not true 2 or 3 word phrases, because he’s learned them as though they were one word. 
They only have one meaning. He uses them appropriately in one context, but doesn’t yet split the words up and use them in other phrases.
His big step forward comes when he start to say, “Teddy cup”, “Mummy cup”, “Daddy cup”; or tries “hat on”, “coat on”, and “shoes on”. These short phrases of only 2 words together, are first steps towards proper sentences.But they don’t have a verb.
Action words, or verbs, are at the heart of the sentences we use as adults. Every complete sentence contains a verb. As your child begins to use action words he takes a giant stride into talking. 
He starts with the actions that he hears you say most often, such as “cry”, ‘eat’, “sleep”.  He combines these with his single word labels to produce miniature sentences. “Dolly sleep”, “eat biki” and “baby cry” are typical 2-word combinations at this stage.
Encourage his 2 word phrases by using them yourself.  Remember that modelling good patterns for him helps him to learn more quickly. 
You can use a few words in many 2-word phrases.  For example, “eat” can be used with a huge variety of other words in such phrases as “eat dinner”, “teddy eat”, “doggy eat”, “eat cake” and so on.
In the same way, you could build a whole series of 2 word phrases around a colour or a size“Big car”, “big boy”, “big dog”, “red hat”, “red boots”.

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First Words: Help Your Child To Talk

Your baby’s learned to pay attention and to listen. He’s beginning to understand you when you talk to him and during his second year, at some point, he’ll start to use words himself.
In this extract from How To Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter: your chance to learn more about the way your child learns to talk, we look at how he arrives at those very first words. 
If you’re a new reader, CLICK HERE to read How To Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter from the very beginning.This link takes you to the first post, so you can read the extracts in sequence. I try to post every Friday, by noon GMT.   
Speech: infants
Your baby depends on you to keep him alive, warm and comfortable. His first cries are the only way he can communicate with you, and he cries with a sound that you just can’t ignore. You’re right in your instincts to use his cries as a signal that you need to look after him. 
Doctors now know that the stress of prolonged crying encourages the production of the chemical cortisol, as Penelope Leach points out in her book “The Essential First Year – What Babies Need Parents to Know”. It’s true that humans all need cortisol, to help reduce inflammation and encourage the metabolism of some foods, too much in the brain can slow development. 
It doesn’t hurt your baby to cry a little: all babies cry sometimes, but remember that he is communicating with you in the only way he can, and be responsive.
When you feel you need to do something for him, you’re right. That’s what he’s telling you with his cries.
In the early days and weeks, you might notice he uses slightly different cries for a variety of purposes. He may have a hungry cry, for example, that you notice is different from the cry he uses when he’s uncomfortable. By 3 months, he’ll know he can use his voice to tell you when he’s pleased or unhappy; excited or tired, and from now on, you’ll hear plenty of coos, gurgles and shouts.
Speech: listening skills
Remember that second key: listening. He’s been listening all the time: to the things around; to human voices and, most importantly, to your voice. He’s heard your intonation patterns: the tune of your speech as your voice rises and falls. He’s heard your voice rise in a question, get louder when you’re annoyed, become low and soft when you play baby games with him.
Speech: practice
Meanwhile, he enjoys his own noises. “Ga ga” he says, his tongue falling naturally into that position. He likes it, repeats it and finds other sounds that are fun. Soon he starts babbling and he finds that you join in, encouraging all the noises, repeating strings of nonsense back to him. 
Between 6 months and 1 year, he plays often with babbling noises, trying out all the sounds of speech. He doesn’t stick to his native language, but includes sounds he’ll never need to use. Over time, his babbling begins to sound more and more like your speech, even though there are no real words there yet.
His strings of sounds get longer and he joins them together until he produces something that seems just like the intonation patterns of speech. At this point, parents sometimes feel their baby is trying to talk. He is playing with sounds, getting ready to launch himself into speech, and it’s not until he can sequence his sounds with a meaningful word that real speech begins.
Speech: feedback
At some point during this sound play, he hits on a combination of sounds that resemble a word.
“Da,” he says as his father picks him up, “Da-da-da.”
Delighted, his father smiles, cuddles him and repeats the word. What a reward. He tries that again. Every time he makes that combination of sounds, at the right time, you’ll celebrate, repeat it and reinforce it. As his accuracy improves, he gets it right every time, encouraged by your excited feedback. There it is – “daddy”: his first word.
Your child’s first word may be something different. Maybe he says “Mama” first. 
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Communication Skills That Work: Ten Ways Pauses Improve Understanding

The pause can become your best communication friend. Use it. Become a clearer, more charismatic communicator as you speak less and pause more, whether in one-to-one conversations or talking to a whole room. Never underestimate the impact of a brief hiatus. Learn to embrace the rhythms of speech, and make use of those silent moments.

Here’s how:
• Pause to allow your listener to catch up. Always think of your listener’s angle. Research shows that both children and adults understand best when your speed is moderate and you pause several times a minute. Remember that your ideas are familiar to you. You already know what you’re about to say, while it’s all new to your conversation partner. He needs decoding time.

• Pause even more when you talk to a bigger audience. Everyone in the room has extra distractions all around her and she needs extra time to take in your words. She has to hear them clearly, blocking out the man next to her when he sniffs or coughs. She needs to to remember each word long enough to extract its meaning, teasing out your grammatical markers, like word endings, and word order in the sentences. The bigger the audience, the longer your pauses should be.

• Pause to make sure you choose the best word for clarity, accuracy and to avoid offense. Notice how an excellent speaker feels comfortable when she stops and thinks, while her listener waits, breathless, until she selects exactly the right word. A nervous or careless speaker who talks vaguely and dully about ‘things’ and ‘stuff’ quickly loses your attention.

• Pause to let the other person speak. Unless you’re a politician with just one minute to deliver your sound bite, be polite. Let your conversation partner have his say. Listen to what he says during your pause and take account of it in your response. Have you ever met someone known as the life and soul of the party who tells strings of jokes and stories without stopping to interact with you? It doesn’t take long for you to want to get away from him, does it?

• Pause to let the other person think. If he stops to find the right word, give him time. Chances are, it’ll be worth waiting for. If you interrupt, you’ll never know.

• Pause after an important phrase to let your words sink in. President Obama always followed “Yes, we can!” with a pause. Rushing straight on to your next point destroys the moment.

• Pause to make sure your audience is listening and to check their reactions. Stopping for a second gives you time to register body language. It allows to see whether your conversation partner is nodding along in agreement, or gazing over your shoulder to find someone more interesting.

• Pause to review what you just said and check where you need to add clarity. As you use your pauses to watch your partner or your audience, notice frowns or puzzled expressions. Maybe you need to add a few words, or ask a question, to help with understanding.

• Pause to gain your audience’s attention even before you begin a speech. Walk to your place, stop, look around the room and count to five, then begin. This shows that you are completely in control and adds to your charisma. You may feel nervous, and you gain time to breathe out and then in, ready to go. Practice it at home.

• Pause often during difficult conversations. A therapist often uses pauses to allow her client to think, react and review the topic. Use a pause with your child, friend or partner, giving him space to express himself honestly and sincerely. You may be surprised at the results.

More communication skills posts you may find useful:

Communication Skills That Work: Ten Tips on Dealing with Angry People

How To Make Positive Suggestions and Improve Your Child’s Behaviour: Communication Skills That Work

How to Give Advice: Communication Skills That Work

Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication Skills: Ten Best Tips for Better Understanding

How to Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter: Learning Two Languages

Parents used to feel anxious about allowing their babies to learn two languages at once, for fear it would damage their language skills in the long term. Those days have gone. Happily, for our global society, the weight of evidence now shows that bilingual children are at an advantage in many ways over their monolingual peers.

Babies who hear two languages or more, before and soon after birth, become skilled at choosing the right brain tool for intellectual tasks. As they continue through life, maintaining their skill in two languages, they even have some protection from the onset of Alzheimers. They can stave off the start of the brain disease for up to five years, according to York University, Toronto, with their improved language tools.

Active brain
Your brain stays nimble and works harder when you speak two languages, building up “cognitive reserve”. In other words, you need to use it or lose it. The more languages you speak, the more protection your brain gains against the disease. If you stop using both languages, your brain loses the advantage.

Babies who hear and see more than one language in their first months are able to attend carefully. Research carried out in McGill University, Montreal, and the University of British Colombia shows that babies of a few months already recognize features of both languages, such as the segmentation of words and the differences in facial expression of the speaker. These skills are important in developing language skills, and learning them while young gives those lucky babies a head start.

Early skills
Babies and young children learn both languages simultaneously, and switch easily from one to the other. Some speak one language with their mother and another with their father, while others manage one language at home and another when at nursery or preschool.

Language learning takes place most rapidly between birth and 3 years or age. Children continue to learn until 10 or 12 years, but after that time find it harder to learn new languages. Feral children, deprived of communication in their early years, find it impossible to catch up completely, and spend their lives disadvantaged by poor language skills.

The message to parents is clear. If your child has access to more than one language, take advantage of the opportunity to help your child talk in both and encourage extra brain activity.

If your baby only hears one language, introduce a new one well before he reaches 10 years of age, preferably even before he’s 3 years old.

You may be too old to pick it up a new skill as easily as your child does, but it’s worth learning a second language yourself. You’ll keep your mind as active as you can, to give yourself as much protection as possible against later brain problems.

Further Information
How to Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter:Amazon Kindle eBook:
National Geographic: Bilingual Babies: 2009
School of Communication Sciences & Disorders, McGill University, Montreal: Word segmentation in monolingual and bilingual infant learners of English and French: Linda Polka & Megha Sundara
Science Now: An Infants Refine Tongue: 2011
Royal Society: Brain Waves Module Two: Neuroscience: Implications for Education and Lifelong Learning: 2011

How to Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter: Early Learning Matters

Children who talk well do better in life. Language skill opens the door to success, and communication difficulties make life harder. As a parent, you want your child to become a successful person, and by helping his language development you can give him the language tools to smooth his path.

Youth offending
One shocking fact is that 70 percent of young offenders in England and Wales have a communication difficulty, according to a recent report for the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, while 10 percent of the entire population have a communication problem.

Brain research
The Royal Society, in its report, “Brain Waves Module Two: Neuroscience: Implications for Education and Lifelong Learning”, makes it clear that the early years of life are important for rapid development in a baby’s brain. While changes to the brain continue throughout life, there are critical periods when a child develops language skills more easily than at any other time.

The report also highlights the importance of self-control in our lives. A child of three who resists the temptation to eat a sweet straight away, because he knows he will be rewarded for his self-control by receiving two sweets, may well achieve more in later life.

A recent study by the University of California shows that babies use the same brain areas as adults to process words, suggesting that maybe a child’s understanding of words begins even earlier than we thought.

How to help
Improve your child’s life chances by offering the best possible environment for learning self-regulation and language development. Your child will benefit from:
• a regular routine, where she feels confident and secure,
• quiet times during the day to avoid over-stimulation,
• plenty of sleep to let her brain deal with the new things she sees every day,
• parents or carers who smile, talk to and cuddle her.

Some children find it difficult to learn language, speech and communication skills. Check your child’s progress regularly to make sure he learns language at a reasonable speed. If you have concerns, speak to your health professional as soon as possible. A speech therapist can tell whether he’s on the right track and she will advise you on how to help him.

If you’d like to know more about how to help your child talk and grow smarter, maybe you’d like to take a look at How to Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter, available from Amazon: just click on the thumbnail to find out more.