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Baby Development: Your 11-Month-Old

“Receptive” vs. “Expressive” Language continued...

At the same time, your child began to play with sounds and to learn how to articulate the consonants and vowels and musicality of your native tongue. You noticed, for example, how she strings sounds together in a way that sounds eerily like real speech. But that was not language, until somewhere around 9 months or so, she had her brilliant idea.

After that you wondered if she understood her name or “No!” or bottle, and she likely did. But, as all of you know who have tried to learn a second language late in life, it’s easier to understand (“receptive language”) words than it is to generate the speech (“expressive language) to communicate. Additionally, the oral motor skills involved in talking are incredibly complicated and take a lot of time to master. That’s why a full three months or so go by between the brilliant idea and its manifestation as the much-heralded first word.

Baby’s Learning to Talk

How will your baby best learn to talk at this point? To make a point, let’s do a thought experiment. Suppose you are a mad scientist parent. You want to see how well your baby will learn to talk by keeping the TV on all day (nothing but Sesame Street and Baby Einstein, etc) and sitting him/her in a high chair and making him/her watch for a few hours a day. But no human conversation, just watching TV. How well would your baby learn to talk?

The answer is: not at a whit. Babies can only learn language in the context of a relationship. There must be a back and forth, questions and answers, immediate responses to things that have just happened, following up on the infant’s utterances with those of your own. In short, human interactions. TV’s disembodied flashes of images have none of this and, of course, lack the benefit of the communicator having a close emotional bond.

Coaching Your Baby

I could spend the rest of this piece counseling you how to help your baby learn to talk. There really are some good tricks: talk to him/her a lot, narrate what you are doing, ask questions, respond to whatever your child says, read books together, use lots of inflection and drama and gestures in your speech.

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