How to Teach First Words to Your Baby: Here Are Tips from a Speech and Language Expert!

Did you know that you can start talking to your child even while they’re still in the womb? Babies, even in the womb, can already hear sounds. Even if they can’t understand you yet, they start to become familiar with the sound of language and emotions like being sad, angry, or excited. First words are such beautiful milestones that make every Mom and Dad proud. But how exactly do kids start talking and saying actual words? What even counts as a word for babies and toddlers? How do you even begin talking to your kids when they’re not old enough to understand?

Moms and Dads, to help you out, we talked to Katherine Tiuseco, best known as Teacher Kaye, a Certified Speech and Language Pathologist to gain professional insight on how parents can teach their kids new words and to aid them in developing language skills. Teacher Kaye shares valuable and practical tips right here. Keep reading!

How to Teach First Words to Your Baby: Here Are Tips from a Speech and Language Expert!

(Layout) Talk About Things As They Happen
For babies and toddlers, you can start with commenting on what you’re doing or simple day-to-day activities that they see you performing. Teacher Kaye says, kids can retain information better when you make more comments and ask less questions like “What’s this?” Or “What’s that?” Describe and talk about actions, and objects as you see and experience them.

“Whenever they’re watching you (like when you leave them in the crib, but start folding the laundry on the bed), comment on everything you’re doing. ‘I’m getting this blue shirt, mmm! It smells so good after washing, want to smell it? Here, mommy is smelling it! Then I will fold it.’ Later on, when they start becoming more mobile and can hold objects and play with toys, comment on what they’re doing. ‘You picked up the ball! It’s pink, it’s soft. You are squeezing the ball! Gigil ka?'” – Teacher Kaye

(quote for layout) “Young children are still VERY LITERAL, so talk about the things that they can see, hear, feel, taste, smell at the very moment. This makes things meaningful.” Teacher Kaye

If you’d like to know more about how to use commentary in language stimulation for kids, you can watch Teacher Kaye’s informative video all about dubbing and commentary.

(Layout) Teach Them Words You Use Everyday
Teacher Kaye recommends teaching words that you use everyday when you communicate with your babies and toddlers. One of the first words you can teach your young kids are those associated for requesting like “give” or “hingi,” as well as items they usually want such as milk or their favorite snacks. You can also describe their favorite toys like ball, bear, pillow, car, and more.

“They will likely learn emotive words first, too, because we usually say them with feelings, like “oh no! WOW! hala!” You can also make sound effects for anything you see, like saying “beep beep” while playing with the car, or “mooooo” when you point the cow in the barn. Sound effects (onomatopoeia) are words, too!” – Teacher Kaye

In one of her videos, Teacher Kaye also describes what exactly counts as words for babies and toddlers.

(Layout) Don’t Worry About the Alphabet and Numbers Yet
While the alphabet and counting are important in preparing your kids for subjects like Reading and Math, Teacher Kaye says that these concepts don’t need to be drilled among babies and toddlers right away. Reading and numbers can be introduced in passing when you’re looking through books and highlighting letters and their sounds or counting toys. However, for kids below the age of 4, it would be better to teach them functional words that are used everyday as mentioned above.

“If we look at what we would need the alphabet for, it’s preparation for reading, and we don’t expect children to read until they’re around 4 or 5 years old. They won’t need to know Math yet either. That’s what school is for. Yes, it is important to prepare them, so these concepts may be introduced in passing, but to drill them with flashcards and posters, just so they can recite the ABCs and count to 20 is just teaching them to memorize a script.” -Teacher Kaye

(Layout) Try the Expand and Extend Technique
Your little one’s speaking and language skills are still at the earliest stage, and they’re only at the first steps of development. There’s no need to worry about how clearly they can articulate words, Moms and Dads. But what’s important to remember, according to Teacher Kaye, is to always acknowledge your babies’ attempts to talk or communicate.

(quote for layout) “So when they gesture toward their toy rattle and say "a-tuh-", EXPAND the approximation by saying "rattle? want rattle?" because that's basically what the communicative intent is, if you were to put the scenario into the right words or phrasing.” Teacher Kaye

“You can EXTEND this by adding more information that the child may not have meant, but would be nice to know! “rattle makes sounds! shake shake shake rattle! rattle is fun!” So now you’ve given the function of the rattle, the action associated with it, and describes how the child must feel when playing with the rattle! Do this with any communicative attempt and you’ll see your child learn faster!” – Teacher Kaye

(Layout) No Screen Time
Let’s bust this myth: “Ibabad sila sa panonood ng educational videos like nursery rhymes, alphabet, counting — para may natututunan sila kahit iwanan mo.” Teacher Kaye says, that according to research, babies who are exposed early to screens are more likely to have language delays and lower communication scores later on in life. Other effects of prolonged screen time are poor sleep quality and irritable behavior!

It’s good to remember that language is learned through interactions with other people. Engaging with your kids face-to-face and talking to them will help stimulate their speaking and language abilities much better. Teacher Kaye recommends avoiding screen time for babies 0 to 2 years old, and limited screen time (one hour per day) for kids from 2 to 5 years old.

(quote layout) “Some people think 'My child has learned the ABCs from watching videos!' That's just memorized information, which can happen when you hear and see the same things over and over, the same way we can memorize a commercial jingle even if we don't mean to. Note especially that if a child already has signs of a delay, the first thing to eliminate should be screen or gadget time, to rule that out as a possible cause.” Teacher Kaye

(Layout) Be Animated
Engaging and interacting with young kids is most effective when you are animated and excited about communicating with them, too. Have fun and use playful voices whenever you’re reading books, be a character, and don’t be afraid to exaggerate.

“There is a way of talking to children called Parentese / Infant-Directed Speech that can boost language development. NOT baby talk, which is usually gibberish, but simple words and phrases delivered with exaggerated sounds like onomatopoeia, playing with tone of voice using higher or lower pitch, longer or shorter vowels, slower pace, and being engaged and energetic!” – Teacher Kaye

(Layout) Repeat the Same Word in Different Contexts
Repetition is key! Teacher Kaye says that people usually need to hear a new word 12 to 50 times before they can fully understand it, use it, and remember it. So, go ahead and keep on repeating words and use them in different situations to help your child understand them and make associations.

(quote for layout) “REPEAT everything. Example: "Drink WATER, WATER yummy, WATER cold, WATER in your cup, lots of WATER.” So in this way, I've said WATER 5 different times, and all describing WATER! In no time, your child will know what you mean by WATER!” Teacher Kaye

(Layout) Enjoy Interacting with One Another
Don’t forget to enjoy every moment! Learning milestones become more meaningful when you get to have fun with your child in this journey. Discovering words, developing language and speaking skills, can be an exciting adventure after all.  If you are worried about speech and language delay, it’s best to seek help from your child’s doctor immediately.

(quote for layout) “The most important thing is that you enjoy interacting with one another, and using words to express them!” Teacher Kaye


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