How Your Little One Learns to Talk

DadaJimmy Fallon has a picture book out!

In Your Baby’s First Word Will Be Dada, determined animal dads try—but fail—to get their adorable offspring to say “Dada.”

It’s a quirky, funny take on the fascinating human task of learning to talk.

For quite a while, I’ve wondered how it is that babies can seem to understand so much, and even think, long before they can speak. And it turns out that no one really can explain this yet, although researchers have documented word-and-picture association in children as young as six months.

Learning to talk involves both the mental task of acquiring language and the physical task of learning to speak. This post is an overview of the stages of language learning.

Babies are born with the capacity to hear and make all the sounds in every language (English has about 44), although by the end of their first year they are losing the ability to distinguish sounds not in the language spoken around and to them.

Around six weeks of age, babies begin to make vowel sounds, especially aah, ee, and ooh. They eventually progress to consonant-vowel pairs, such as boo, da, and even mama and dada—but these “words” have no meaning to babies yet. They still have to determine “word boundaries” in the sound combinations they hear around them.

Most children begin to say single words with meaning, always nouns, at 12-18 months. This is the stage when children can point to—and eventually name—photos or illustrations of objects in their books.

One of my grandsons enjoyed his books immensely when he entered the pointing-and-naming stage.

Pointing2SayPrayThumbnailIn fact, it was interacting with him that gave me the idea for my newest book, Say & Pray Bible. (You can learn more, see a sample here, and find links to preorder here.)

Around 24 months, children begin to say two-word, noun plus verb sentences, such as “Cat run.” In time, sentences become longer and include adjectives and adverbs, but no function words: “Big cat run fast.” Last to develop is the use of function words (such as the and an) and more complex sound combinations and sentence forms.

Human beings seem to be hardwired to acquire language and learn to speak—evidence that, as the Bible says, we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139). But there’s a lot we can do to help little ones learn and have normal language development. I’ll be posting about those soon!

– Diane

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