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Children grow up so fast. It seems only yesterday that they were newborns and now, you see them starting to crawl, walk and get more and more fascinated with the world around them.

As your baby grows into a toddler, you will also start to hear that adorably sweet voice form words. From babyhood to about 3 years of age, your baby’s language development will progress at such amazing speed. From observing how you communicate with other people and imitating the sounds around them, babies start learning how to express themselves through oral language.

This is when it is crucial for parents to support and guide their children through the varying stages of their developmental milestones. For language development and vocabulary building in children who are just starting to talk, it is important to remember that this will happen at their own, unique pace. When babies start to display a readiness to talk, here are some simple tips to encourage them to do so:

1. Engage your baby in a conversation

It might seem silly to have a conversation with your baby as you would with a friend or family member. However, studies say that exposing children to a vast number of words and a rich vocabulary during their first three years can greatly enhance their language skills and intellectual development. According to Tracy Cutchlow—co-author, with John Medina, of Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five—children who are spoken to more frequently in their first few years have IQs that are one-and-a-half times higher than those who aren't. 

This means that instead of saying ‘goo goo’ and ‘ga ga’ to your little one, use proper words in meaningful conversation. For example, you can narrate your day to your child using descriptive words like, ‘It was a fun day today at the park, wasn’t it?’ Or perhaps you can even include your tiny tot while you’re making a meal. You can say, ‘These bright orange carrots are really delicious and healthy. Are you excited to try them out, little darling?’

Even if your young one can only answer you back in gurgles or babbling inarticulate sounds (as infants around 4 to 12 months do), be assured that your words are being soaked in, so keep on talking.

2. Start reading

It’s never too early to introduce the joys of reading to your child. Choose a time when you are not tired to read, so you can both enjoy this bonding and learning moment. Read aloud and make use of intonation and voicing styles to make it more engaging. 

You can also go beyond what’s written on the page. Use the photos as a reference point to interact with your baby. For example, point out what the character is doing, ‘Look at the little boy and his dog! They are running around with a big, red ball.’ By doing so, you are also introducing other words into their vocabulary while providing visual support through the illustration in the book.

3. Speak parentese

Parentese or motherese is a term describing the specific language used to talk to a baby in a high-pitched, singsong voice matched with exaggerated facial expressions. It has been found that this kind of speech also helps babies pay more attention to the speaker and encourages them to process the difference between words and their arrangement in a sentence. 

Parentese is more beneficial to use compared to baby talk, which is a nonsensical way of making sounds that does nothing to your baby’s language development.

4. Sing and rhyme

The repetitive use of words along with the catchy tunes in children’s songs, help build phonemic awareness. These nursery rhymes and songs allow you to manipulate sounds to make new words such as “cat” into “bat”, “rat”, or “fat”. It’s also a fun way of introducing new words to your baby.

Aside from books, you can also look online for copies or samples of these rhymes and songs. 

5. Take a trip

Another fantastic way to expose your child to new words and phrases is to actually go out and show your child the world. 

Books and shows and are helpful but there’s also wisdom in taking your child out for a stroll in the park, an escapade to the zoo, or even a quick trip to the supermarket. All the colourful things around us can make for great instructional materials to a baby who is starting to get to know the world we live in.

Point out interesting things (although most would be to a mind as fresh as your baby’s) like the ‘huge, yellow sign’ or the ‘tall, leafy tree’. Use adjectives to describe items at the market like, ‘the big, freezing tub of ice cream’ or the ‘fluffy, brown teddy bear’. 

Teach words with words

To learn words, your child must be exposed to as many words as you can possibly share with them. Engaging your baby in conversation, showing them the world around them, and making use of rhymes and songs, can enhance their language development and vocabulary. 

Remember that each child has their own pace in achieving developmental milestones. Feel free to consult your paediatrician to discuss a general guide on how to identify the stages that your child is supposed to go through so you can better help in improving and enhancing your child’s growth.