Properly communicating with your baby helps ensure language development.

Small, everyday interactions can be the most impactful for an expanding mind; a baby’s brain is constantly absorbing its surroundings. Those casual sights and sounds are imperative to later development, especially in regards to language and speech.

Fundamentals

It can be a natural temptation to fawn over your precious infant using “baby talk.” While this may seem harmless and playful, this form of light, airy voice and mispronunciation of words can actually have a negative impact on speech development.

Speech that involves baby talk does not teach babies proper language. This type of dialogue usually consists of tones that are higher in pitch than a normal conversation, thus leading toddlers to adopt those tones. These high pitches also make it difficult for babies to understand inflections of voice. They often cannot decipher the emotion behind a sound. Unfortunately, children exposed to large amounts of this type of whimsical speech usually struggle to pronounce consonants, the fundamental sounds of speech — baba, dada.

Even when doting over your child, remember to speak to them in a normal voice. You don’t have to dumb it down. They may not be responding back to you in words, but they will react to your facial expressions, inflections and tones, and eventually start forming their own voice.

Secondary language

Introducing secondary languages to your baby poses great benefits for their development. Currently, about 22 percent of school-aged kids in the U.S. speak a different language at home. Studies project that by 2030, this number will rise to 40 percent. Gradually, research is revealing more about the successes of bilingualism. Bilingual children are believed to be better focused on relevant tasks, and tend to be more creative and better problem solvers. Bilingualism has even been shown to reduce the risk of dementia.

Start early. The sooner a secondary language is introduced, the better. Speak to children in different languages when they are first born, or even before they are born.

There are many videos, books and other training tools that monolingual parents can use to learn a second language with their children. But, make sure you are interactively using and teaching the language to your young one, and not sitting them in front of a TV screen alone.

Language and speech development aren’t limited to talking; reading out loud is also extremely advantageous. Reading to your child stimulates multiple senses and is a great opportunity to demonstrate voice inflection and tone variation, or even introduce a second language. Remember, though your baby might not be reciprocating communication through speech, they are absorbing yours. The way we interact with these developing minds has lasting effects. Infant signing is another proven way to develop a child’s language; learn more here.

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Shahed Izaddoost, M.D., known as “Dr. Sky,” is a practicing pediatrician in San Antonio, Texas. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry from Rice University, and received her medical degree from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. She completed her training at the University of Texas at Houston Pediatric Residency Program, working at Memorial Hermann Children’s Hospital and M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Dr. Sky is board certified by the American Board of Pediatrics.