The amount of time you spend talking to your baby before she is three years old can influence her language capabilities, her IQ, and her future academic success. Researchers Betty Hart, PhD and Todd R. Risley, PhD of the University of Kansas found that the more words babies hear, the more successful they are in school.
In their groundbreaking study, which they wrote up in their 1995 book Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children, Hart and Risley recorded 42 families talking to their babies over a three-year period. They then followed the children’s academic progress until they reached nine or ten years of age and found that the number of words a child heard as an infant and toddler had a significant impact on later learning.
Your baby’s brain will never be more open or receptive to language than it is between birth and seven years of age. In a TED Talk about her 2003 study, Patricia Kuhl explained that in the first few months of life, a baby’s brain hears all sounds equally. By the time babies are eight to ten months old, they begin to discriminate and recognize the core sounds of the languages to which they have been most exposed. This period is a good opportunity for your child to become bilingual. Between your baby’s first and second birthdays, her vocabulary has the potential to quadruple.
By talking to your baby and introducing her to as many sounds and words as possible in these first few years, you can provide her a foundation of neural pathways that will result in a rich vocabulary, a mastery of grammar and syntax, and a wealth of complex thoughts.
Here are some ways to accomplish these goals:
- Narrate the day—As you go about your day with your baby, provide a narrative: “Look, the floor is dirty. Let’s clean it up,” “It is time to feed the cat,” and “I love to be outside with you.”
- Repeat—Your child learns from the reinforcement of repetition. She likes to hear words and phrases over and over—probably beyond the point where you are tired of them.
- Label things for her—Provide names for people and things: “I am using a broom to sweep the floor,” and “Look at the tree, the bird, and the pond.”
- Read to her—Reading is both an educational and a bonding experience. Starting from before birth, you can read to your baby and give her the opportunity to hear words. The act of reading a book together connects reading with positive emotions, which helps motivate her to read in later years.
- Sing and play music—Putting words to music is not only a fun way to build your baby’s vocabulary, but also a way to build memory and to enhance word meaning through tone and mood, further expanding her communication skills.
- Avoid TV and electronics—As Kuhl’s research shows, babies do not learn language by listening to audio or video recordings. When learning language, they respond best to person-to-person interaction.
- Talk to her—You are the most fascinating person to your baby. She loves your voice and your face, and she loves being close to you. Hold your baby and give her your full attention with eye contact as you talk to her. She is open to learning through connection and interaction within your relationship.