Today, the vast majority of children who live in large cities, such as Madrid, begin Early Childhood Education before the age of 2, some even at 4 or 5 months of age, due to their parents' return to work. It is true that by starting education so early, many gain great benefits, such as learning to socialize with other children, not depending so much on their parents, to be more independent or to develop a more complete vocabulary. Babies are like sponges, and although we do not immediately see everything they are learning, little by little they show us all the skills they are acquiring thanks to the stimulation that we give them both actively and passively. Babies listen to us speak since they are in the womb, and they are able to recognize their mother tongue, showing more interest towards it, from the day of their birth.
From the beginning of this school year, children who go to school at such an early age, or who are even in the care of people other than their parents, may have one of the disadvantages of the use of masks: not being able to observe the articulation of who is speaking to them. This has a negative impact on the development of their language, since they need, in addition to listening to other people speaking, to see how their lips and tongue move when they speak. So now, more than ever, our babies are going to need extra language stimulation when we're at home to get much-needed visual support.
For any type of learning, it is necessary that we carry out activities linked to positive emotions, so these lessons will have to be "disguised" in an attractive package so that learning is something fun, both for our baby and for us. We can stimulate language in many ways and at any time of the day. Although at first our babies can’t answer us in words, and it may seem useless to talk to them so much, this could not be further from reality: the more language stimulation they receive at any age, the richer their vocabulary will be. Here are some examples of things we can do to stimulate our children's language in a natural and entertaining way:
Talk, talk, talk. Talk always, about what you are seeing or what you are doing. For example, if you go to the supermarket, you can comment on the foods you are seeing or you are putting in the basket; and at bath time, you can name the parts of the body you are washing.
Repeat, repeat and repeat. Repetition is our friend when we talk to our little ones. It helps them, if they are at that point, to repeat the word we are saying with us, and if not, to have more input on the name of a thing (vocabulary) and on how that word is pronounced (articulation). For example, if we are washing our babies’ hands, we can even make up a song:
"I wash my hands,
hands, hands, hands,
with soap and water,
with soap and water.”
Talking and spending time together doing all of these activities will not only help your baby's language development, but it will also help create a special bond between mother or father and son or daughter that can last for a lifetime. It is important that we answer and appreciate the communicative responses of our children, be it a babble, their first words or their first sentences, and that we praise them each time they move to a new stage of language.
I end with a paragraph from my article also published on the Sinews blog, False myths about bilingualism:
“Although there are variations of 5-6 months apart, the first words should appear around 12 months. Around 18-24 months, children should say two-word combinations, and by three years, be able to communicate their needs through language, with complete and understandable sentences, even if their pronunciation and grammar are not perfect.
This is the same for bilingual and monolingual children. If your child is not developing their language at this rate, bilingual or not, you should assess their hearing ability, and consult with a bilingualism specialized speech therapist, to receive professional advice and, if necessary, begin treatment as soon as possible.”