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.”

Use onomatopoeias when you speak, play or read. They help to relate an object or animal to its sound, creating new brain connections, and to develop different articulatory sounds. For example, when you get into the car, you can say that the car goes “brumm” or make a noisy vibration with your lips, and that the car horn goes “beep beep”.

Use music. Sing and dance with your baby! It is not necessary that your tuning is the best or that you are a top dancer. Listening to children's songs will develop their rhythm and vocabulary in an attractive way. Memorizing nursery rhymes and songs will prepare them for literacy too! You can dance freely or make gestures that accompany the song and that reinforce the vocabulary of what is being sung. And it is not necessary for our babies to always listen to nursery rhymes, you can also put on music that you like, or classical music, which will also help with their brain development.

Use the 5 senses. You can try different types of food with flavors that contrast with each other and talk about what you are tasting, both the taste and the appearance and smell of the food ("Wow! This lemon is acid! Have you noticed that the lemon is yellow inside and out? And it even has seeds inside!”). You can compare objects or fabrics with different textures, or of different temperatures ("This pink blanket is very soft, we can touch it with our hand or our face. But this rug is rough, right? It doesn't make you want to put it on your face. Besides, it’s dirty from being on the floor, and we don’t want that dirt on our face, do we?”). You can talk about the different smells of the food you are going to eat, or of a cologne or the soap that your usually use.

Read together. There are a wide variety of books in different formats: books that tell a story, books to work vocabulary from different semantic categories (animals, colors, shapes ...), books with pop-up drawings, books with textures included, cloth or plastic books, which can be touched by babies and put in the mouth without problem of breaking. Listening to different stories and even, if they ask for it, reading the same book many times, will help develop our babies vocabulary, and later, their interest in reading independently. Some book recommendations are: "Charlie Chick", "The Color Monster" and "Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see?"

Play together. To stimulate language while we play, we can use object toys that we use every day, such as tableware and food toys; or animals, which we can name, say what noises they make, talk about their shape and colors, or if they swim, fly, walk or run. To develop their articulation, something we can do is to put the toy next to our mouth and say the name of the object it represents. For example, I can take a toy cow, hold it to by face and say, “Look! I have a COW. The COW says Moooooo”. Another very fun game, for children from 18 months, is “ThinkFun Roll & Play”, with which we can work on colors, emotions, animals, numbers, actions and parts of the body vocabulary.

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.”

Alba Sánchez Blake
Division of Speech Therapy
Alba Sánchez Blake
Speech Therapist
Children, adolescents and adults
Languages: English and Spanish
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