Developing language from 0 to 1 year old: the required communication skills

Postnatal, Your questions

Dear parents,

You have your infant in front of you, and already you wonder when will he express himself with words. You can’t wait to hear him say “mom” or “dad”. Can’t you?

More than 4,000 languages are spoken around the world! Language acquisition means more than communicating with those around us, it also has to do with learning a particular language.

First of all, be aware that your baby has been expressing himself since he was born; also, he already makes many efforts into getting in touch with you, sharing and communicating in various ways, even though he doesn’t do it with words. Language acquisition isn’t as visible in an infant; nevertheless, it is an essential prerequisite for the development of his future language. One cannot go without the other.

Several researchers are interested in learning the mechanisms underlying language. From the first weeks of life, infants recognize sentences heard around them in their mother tongue.

Each at its own pace

Each baby has its own rhythm of evolution in his growth. Even if your baby doesn’t talk really well compared to other children around you, that doesn’t mean he has a problem.  Some children have fully learned the basics of language, but they don’t always feel it necessary to let themselves go and talk, especially if siblings are speaking for them. However, as a parent, it is not necessary to always wear our pink glasses either. We must remain attentive to this aspect of the baby’s development over time.

If you feel that your baby is stagnating in language development, or developing at a slower rate than another child in your environment, be aware that he may be at another phase of his development. There is no need to worry about a temporary stoppage. It is not an ascending line without slight reversals. There are variations in learning, as long as the behavior is not wholly acquired.

Language development is achieved through a series of skills:

  1. Ability to hear
  2. Ability to encode
  3. Ability to remember long enough what has been heard
  4. Ability to move, namely, lips and tongue
  5. Ability to imitate voluntarily
  6. Ability to combine longer and longer groups of sounds
  7. Words pronunciation
  8. Combine 2 words, then 3
  9. Enunciate pieces of sentences
  10. Finally say complete sentences

These skills develop gradually and your child’s initial health condition plays a role in this regard. For example, does he hear and see well, can he move his lips to suck? Hearing is closely tied to language, and necessary to be able to repeat and learn. If your baby has recurring ear infections, colds or other illnesses, it may impact on his pace of language development.

Premature birth does not delay language acquisition in the child; the premature baby will evolve at its own pace like full-term babies, some faster than others.

A stimulating environment that encourages the child to connect effectively with people around him also influences the language. Being able to observe a face, move the lips and tongue voluntarily is essential to imitate sounds. Interest in objects is also required to accumulate knowledge and to be willing to talk about them.

How can you tell if your baby is hearing well or if he can move the structures of the mouth to talk?


Can your baby hear?

Some babies have hearing problems, whether it is poor hearing (with distortion), little or no hearing at all. This condition prevents them from developing their language well. Others need more time to recognize the sounds they hear. Some indicators may reassure you concerning your baby’s hearing.

Here are a few tips:

  • When he is awake, your child turns his head towards your voice or a noise.
  • He reacts when there is a very loud noise around him.
  • He reacts to an object that produces a noise.
  • He reacts differently to happy and angry intonations.

Can your baby make movements with his mouth?

At first, the baby shows the sucking reflex naturally, on the tip of your little finger, for example. Sometimes, the first sign of difficulty in lip mobility is the inability to suck well. The ability to properly coordinate the movements of the lips, tongue and larynx prevents the child from choking when drinking or eating. The coordination in the movements of several structures of the mouth and larynx is also required to speak.

Here are some tips:

  • Your child rounds up his lips enough to suck.
  • He can suck, drink and eat without choking.
  • Pay attention to more discreet signs of choking such as a blushing face or eyes filling with water (the effect of the drop of liquid that has fallen into the wrong duct).
  • He observes your mouth, reproduces your movement, with or without sound as a, o, i.

For further information, please read the article Language development from birth to one-year-old.

You can also watch the video broadcast live with speech therapist Johanne Bédard on Orthophony : stimulate language up to one-year-old.

Marie Fortier
The Baby Expert

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