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Help your baby learn

Help your child learn to speak

Being able to talk is vital for making friends, as well as learning and understanding the world around you.

Babies have to understand words before they can start to talk.

You can help your child learn by holding them close, making eye contact and talking to them as soon as they’re born. They will look back at you and very soon begin to understand how conversations work. Even making ‘baby noises’ will teach your baby useful lessons about listening, the importance of words and taking turns in a conversation.

As your baby starts to take more of an interest in what’s going around them, start naming and pointing at things that you can both see (‘Look, a cat!’). This will help your baby learn words and, in time, they’ll start to copy you. Once your baby can say around 100 individual words, they’ll start to put short sentences together. This normally happens by around the age of two.

Useful tips

The following tips will encourage your baby to start talking:

* From the day they’re born, make faces and noises and talk about what’s going on. Ask questions like, ‘Are you hungry now?’ or ‘Do you want some milk?’
* Start looking at books with your baby from an early age. You don’t have to read the words on the page, just talk about what you can see.
* Point out things you see when you’re out and about (‘There’s a bus’). As your baby gets older, add more detail (‘There’s a red bus’).
* As your baby grows, have fun singing nursery rhymes and songs, especially those with actions like ‘Pat-a-cake’, ‘Row, row, row your boat’ and ‘Wind the bobbin up’.
* If you repeat the sounds your baby makes back to them, your baby will learn to copy you.
* Background noise will make it harder for your child to listen to you, so switch off the TV.
* If your child is trying to make a word but gets it wrong, say the word properly. For example, if your baby points to a cat and says ‘Ca!’ say, ‘Yes, it’s a cat.’ Don’t criticise or tell them off for getting the word wrong.
* Use short, simple sentences. If your child is already talking, try as a general rule to use sentences that are a word or so longer than the sentences they use themselves.
* Play games where you have to take turns, like peep-bo and round and round the garden.
* Get your child’s attention by saying their name at the start of a sentence.
* You can increase your child’s vocabulary by giving them choices, such as, ‘Do you want an apple or a banana?’
* Giving your child opportunities to talk (such as in the bath, in the car or just before bed) will help them learn to talk. If you ask a question, give them plenty of time to answer you.
* Restrict use of their dummy to when it’s time to sleep. It’s hard to learn to talk with a dummy in your mouth.

Speech difficulties

Some children find it hard to learn what words mean or struggle to use words or put them together in sentences. Others may use long sentences but find it hard to make themselves understood. These are all signs that they may need some extra help.

If you’re worried about your child’s language development, talk to your GP or health visitor.

It may help to get your child referred to a speech and language therapist. In most areas, you can do this yourself. Find your local speech and language therapy department and general information about learning to talk on the Talking Point website.

Bilingual children

Lots of children grow up in a family where more than one language is spoken. This can be an advantage to children in their learning. Knowing another language will help the development of their English.

The important thing is to talk to your child in whatever language feels comfortable to you. This may mean that one parent uses one language while the other uses another. Children adapt to this very well.

Further information

Language development in twins