Cultivating Language

Build, Keep, Nurture

The best way to build your baby’s language is to speak with him continuously.


Colby’s dad is kneeling at the side of his crib ready to have some one-on-one time while he prepares for his child’s afternoon nap. Dad begins to tell Colby a story his father told him when he was a little child. In a deep voice Dad says, “Once there was a furry rabbit” (Dad rubs Colby’s blanket on his arm), “who lived with his father in the grass. His name was Snugglebug.” (Dad tickles Colby’s belly.) “And his mother's name was Rabbit . . .” Dad continues his story to the end, and then he asks Colby if he enjoyed the story as he gives him a kiss on his forehead.


As Dad is talking to his son he is using shorter, simpler sentences, which he utters more slowly. Dad also provides an action to some of the words af ter he says them. This makes it easier for Colby to understand what Dad is saying. As Dad talks with Colby he is not only building his child’s language skills, but he is also helping him develop his brain. Just like a baby needs food for physical growth, a baby also needs language for his brain development. The great thing is, language nutrition is free! You don’t have to have fancy toys or expensive books. All you have to do is talk, interact, and engage with your baby in everyday conversations.

Speaking can include describing his feelings and expressing them out loud. Talk about the day and what he is eating. For instance, when you give him a bottle, you can say: “You are so hungry, and I have some warm milk for you. I will sing to you while you drink.”

Tend to your infant’s language development by paying attention to how you use language with him. One of the most common speaking techniques parents use with their infants is called “motherese.”

In the above example with the bottle, Dad was using motherese, or baby talk. Motherese is “infant-directed talk,” which is a nonstandard form of English that is exaggerated and typically done in a high-pitched voice. Babies prefer motherese to adult-directed speech because motherese makes it easier for the baby to understand the structures of speech. Motherese is important to use with your baby because it helps him learn to identify where words begin and end and gives clues needed to help in the development of his own language. Use correct grammar with your infant early on so as to not confuse him or teach bad habits.

Another simple method to develop your child’s language skills is reading to your infant. In the beginning, your baby will not understand what is being read, but he will as time goes on; he will even want to participate.

During infancy, reading enables you to look after your infant and have quality time with him. Your baby has a desire for you to communicate with him, hear how he is doing, and babble together. Remember the yawning scenario: If you talk, your infant will talk back, and you can keep talking together. Your baby has a desire for you to communicate with him, hear how he is doing, and babble together.

Five simple ways to nurture your baby’s language development:

1. Talk, talk, and talk. Your baby likes to hear a singsong speech, which means that the tone and pitch of the voice fluctuates a lot (as if you were singing) and is coupled with exaggerated facial expressions. Your infant prefers singsong speech because he likes the high-pitched sounds and watching your face when you talk to him. When your baby starts babbling, babble back with similar sounds. You will f ind that your baby babbles back to you.

2. Read, read, and read. It is never too early to read to your baby. It creates a perfect opportunity to bond with him. Your child will like listening to the sounds and rhythms of your voice. Pick stories that have lots of pictures and different textures; this will enable your baby to interact with you during the reading time.

3. Hold your baby’s hand and let him touch the pictures. Name animals, colors, and other pictures in the book.

4. Follow your infant’s lead. If your little one is giving more visual attention to a picture in a book, don’t turn the page. Let him look at the picture as long as he wants.

5. Enjoy music together. Sing songs with your baby. He will love the rhythm and will be soothed by your voice. Songs like “Hush, Little Baby” will help your baby learn pat terns and intonations of language. As your baby grows older, he will enjoy singing the songs with you. Music will lead to language learning as it allows your infant to watch your mouth, lips, and face as you form the words to the song.

Keep developing language with your infant by copying his sounds and encouraging him to imitate you. Put words to your child’s sounds. Not only does your speech during this period help your baby learn to recognize speech sounds, but it is also how your infant will learn to take turns in a conversation and keep communication going as he grows.