How to Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter: Your Baby's Understanding

Here's extract number 12 from How To Help Your Child Talk and Grow Smarter: your chance to learn more about the way your child learns to talk.

The third key that unlocks the mysteries of language for your child, is understanding. In previous extracts, we've looked at how he learns to notice and pay careful attention to the world around him, and how he learns to listen to noises.

This extract explains how your baby starts to understand the significance of words, and looks at the importance of gesture.

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. At the end of each week's post you'll see a link to take you on to the next extract. I try to post every Friday, by noon GMT.

is a two-way process. You talk, while I listen and decode your words in order to understand what you mean. Then I reply, while you listen, decode and understand, according to research undertaken in 1948 by Shannon and Weaver. If this process is going to work when you talk to your child, he needs to understand the words you use, and the grammatical structures you use to assemble them together into meaningful sentences.

Without that understanding, your communication is less effective and the message is lost or scrambled. Your child needs to understand the meaning of the words, phrases and sentences of language, so he can follow verbal instructions, ask for things, or pass on information.

Understanding: infants
At birth, your baby does not understand any words, although he can hear your voice and enjoy its sound, finding it soothing. At this time, his concern is to make sure you respond to his demands for food, warmth and comfort, to keep him alive. All his brainpower focuses on fulfilling his immediate needs.

As he grows, and his billion brain cells start to build connective pathways to each other, he begins to recognize that your voice sounds different at certain times and in certain circumstances. Sometimes you speak quietly, but sometimes you sound agitated or urgent.

He starts to notice the differences and he turns to look at the person speaking, interested in the noise their speech makes. He gets excited when he hears your voice approaching, associating it with the good things about a parent: food, comfort, warmth and safety.

Understanding: six months
At around 6 months, he turns to the sound of doorbells or dogs barking, hearing the difference between those noises and speech. Now he realizes that your speech is more than simple noise. He hears some sound combinations repeated. He hears you say “no” or “bye-bye” many times, and the link between meaning and sound grows in his brain.

He starts to recognize his own name, probably the word he hears most often. He also begins to understand the language of gesture, including waving.

Understanding: gesture
He needs to hear words and see gestures in context, to work out what they mean. This is a good time to start introducing simple signing. Signing allows him to associate gestures with words and their meaning.

Gestures are easier for him to understand and copy than words. They’re bigger, which makes them easier to see and the movements are less complicated. A wave is one simple movement, easy to decode and understand, while the word “bye-bye” is a string of small sounds put together in a special pattern.

Signs are easier for him to make, as they need fewer fine motor skills: and his motor skills are still developing alongside his language.

Come back next week for another extract. A link will appear HERE.

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