Ways to Encourage First Words
First words emerge between 9-18 months. However, communication begins prior to this. Infants communicate via facial expressions and grimaces, squirming, and crying. Social smiles emerge around 6 weeks of age. Very young babies coo and babble. And by around 1 year of age, the sounds they have been using will shape into words.
Think about your daily routines and high-frequency words that occur during those routines. Some of the most common words that emerge first are: mama, dada, more, eat, milk, baby, done, bye-bye, night-night, uh-oh, go, ball. Sounds that are easy to see a person make, such as P, B, and M, usually appear first.
Activities to help encourage these first words:
- Talk to your baby throughout the day. Narrate your day. Talk about what you are doing.
- Read to your baby. Choose books that have just a few pictures per page. It’s OK to use just 1 or 2 words to talk about what you see. Point to or pat the pictures as you name them. For longer books, don’t feel the need to read word for word. Look for pictures that your baby is interested in and name those. If baby reaches towards a picture, name it as they pat the picture. Follow their lead.
- Repetition is key.
- Incorporate simple signs or gestures to use with words.
- Repeat your baby’s attempts to use words. If baby says “ba” when he sees a ball, repeat back, “yes ball,” or “play ball.”
Allow for some focused one-on-one time with your baby each day. Get on your child’s level, face to face, so they can watch your lips and facial expressions. During these focused playtimes, it’s ok to use just 1 or 2 words at a time so baby can focus on just those sounds. Allow for wait time for your baby to try sounds and words that you say. Encourage all attempts at sounds, signs, gestures, and words. And have fun – babies learn best through play.