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Sometimes we are told making baby talk with an infant is a bad idea. Common sense says this is not so. If your infant makes a sound, it is appropriate for you to try to duplicate it. Pretty soon, your infant is trying to duplicate the sounds and noises you make. Once this happens, verbal communication has really begun. Even with an infant only a few hours or days old, it is good to interact with sounds and words. Call the rattle a rattle. Ask him if he wants some juice. Call people by their names. Talk to him about things going on around him. Does he understand? No, not at this very early age. But your infant does need to hear language from a variety of people. By the time your infant is fifteen to eighteen months old, he likely starts referring to some people and things with specific words. Perhaps only you understand, but nonetheless, this is the beginning of verbal communication. He also understands more words than he is able to produce. By the time he is two, he understands a large vocabulary and has available several dozen words for “talking.”

How can you encourage talking and experimentation with words? Talk with your infant or toddler, show some enthusiasm and genuine approval of her increasing ability to talk. And do not be reluctant to use words she may not understand or be familiar with. The only way your infant or toddler is going to learn is through exposure to new words and new verbal expressions in a variety of situations. In addition, do not be concerned if she uses wrong words or expresses things incorrectly. Respond as if she had the idea correct, do what is called for, and occasionally re-verbalize the idea. For instance, your toddler says water while pointing to the refrigerator. You respond by getting a bottle or cup of milk, giving it to her, calling it milk, and not making an issue of the incorrect words. Gradually, your toddler comes to call water and milk by their correct names. Similarly, your toddler may initially call people by the wrong names, call all women Mama, or call people by their correct names sometimes and by the wrong names other times. It is not important to correct her, for she naturally begins to distinguish people and use their correct names. She may also say yes when she means no, fast when she means slow, in when she means out, and so on. Do not make an issue out of it. Just quietly verbalize the correct idea.

How can you encourage language development in children? Talk with them, read to them, explain things to them, answer their questions, encourage them to think about things themselves, encourage and permit their fantasies and daydreams, explain how things work and why they sometimes do not work. Language development in children is best encouraged by people who are highly verbal. If you are not particularly talkative, then make a special effort to encourage the language development of children with whom you interact.

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