Talk to Me, Baby!

It is not rocket science.  The simple fact is that the more you expose your baby to language through speech and song, the stronger her language skills will be.  In other words, when you give your little one language-rich experiences you’ll see earlier speech, greater vocabulary, better and earlier spelling, and stronger reading skills.

So, where do we as parents come in?  How exactly do babies learn language?

The process of language acquisition includes many facets of development including:

  • listening,
  • facial interaction,
  • symbolic play (pretending an object or toy represents something else),
  • means to end behavior (early behavior showing understanding of cause and effect),
  • object permanence (think “peekaboo” or playing hiding and finding games),
  • imitation,
  • and vocal chord development.

Language at Kindermusik
As you may have noticed, Kindermusik keeps your baby’s growth and development in mind for all areas, not just music. In the Village curriculum, designed expressly for babies ages 0-18 months, many activities are developed to help form a solid foundation for Baby’s communication skills.  Here are a few examples:

  • The Hello Song – The encouragement of communication begins with the start of class. The greeting ritual encourages affective communication between Adult and Baby through touch, eye contact, vocalization, and listening.  Think particularly about how you watch your baby’s cues for how she wants to say “hello” and what that teaches her about “telling” you what she’s thinking.
  • The song “This is the Way” supports words and phrases with physical cues:  for example, clapping while singing  “This is the way we clap our hands.”  This type of multi-sensory experience, in which baby both hears a word and feels the physical movement associated with it,  aids Baby’s language acquisition.
  • Singing is always included! Just as in story reading, singing directly exposes participants to patterns of language, including rhythm, speech sounds, syntax, and rhyme.
  • Labeling – We often make a point in class each week of labeling movements, colors, timbres (instrument sounds) or even body parts.  For example, you can easily use the song “This is the Way” to identify and learn names for body parts such as “This is the way we tap our feet…”

But you can easily add to the learning at home.  Here’s how:

  • Parentese – You are probably already using music to help Baby communicate without even realizing it. Adults tend to speak to babies in a musical way—in a slow tempo (or speed), with exaggerated stress, with variations in pitch and volume, and with changes in vocal timbre (or “color”). Vocal exchanges between Adult and Baby tend to be rhythmically predictable patterns, allowing the two partners to learn to
    take turns in conversation. Some scientists believe that the more musical these exchanges, the more communicative they are!
  • Baby learns the art of conversation from interactions with you. When speaking to Baby, leave time for a response, then imitate the response.  This can make saying a rhyme fun.  From our current class, try saying “Giddy-Up Horsey” (Home CD, track 6) to Baby, and leave the “whoa” off the end. Does he try to respond?
  • The development of Baby’s receptive language (understanding the meaning of words) begins at birth and increases as meaningful words are repeated to her every day. Therefore, calling Baby by name from birth is very important in developing name recognition. You can build upon this idea by adding Baby’s name to songs.  For example, in “Hey Lolly” (Home CD, track 22), change the word “Lolly” to Baby’s name.
  • Object Play – Both in class and at home you can use highly motivating objects such as balls, scarves, or favorite toys to encourage language development.  Through playing with interesting and stimulating objects baby can learn vocabulary related to shape, size, color, and even concepts such as high and low, in and out, on and off.  All he needs is you by his side narrating his actions and pointing out these concepts aloud.

We learn music and language in a similar progression. First we are steeped in it. Gradually we detect and then imitate its sounds and patterns in babbling. Eventually, our desire to communicate and the experience of our ears, brain, and muscles converge and we speak our first words—or sing our first notes!  I’m just delighted I get to share in that journey with you all each week at class.

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