Simple Language Activities for Infants’ Speech Development

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As a former language educator, one of my favorite things to do with my own baby are language activities for infants to boost my child’s future language skills.

Guiding my own child’s bilingual language journey through purposeful language activities has been a fun and unique experience and I’m thrilled to share some insights and simple tips on nurturing speech skills in infants.

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Little babies absorb so much information in the first year of life when their cognitive development is at its peak. Even if infants from 0-12 months aren’t usually talking full words or sentences, the first year of life is crucial for language learning and to support early language development.

I like to begin with a bit of a disclaimer: All young (neurotypical) children will eventually say their first words without you having to do much at all.

You simply engage with your baby through your daily routines and they will observe and learn. It’s that simple.

However, if you want to drastically improve your child’s communication skills and boost their brain development from those early years on, adding some fun language activities for infants can be a great way to do that.

Why you should nurture speech development within the 0-12 month period

The notion of infants and toddlers engaging in conversations and literature might seem odd, yet the foundation of language and literacy proficiency starts early—right from birth. Observing your infant and discerning how they communicate through different sounds, facial expressions, and gestures is one of the best ways to provide a strong foundation for language development.

It is important to understand that it is not necessary to engage in formal classroom-type language instruction for very young children. Enrolling babies in formal classes or activities that attempt to forcefully increase their language skills does not bolster their developmental trajectory and it could even hamper it.

When children are pushed towards learning new skills that they aren’t ready for, it might evoke feelings of inadequacy and might even make them resentful and less motivated. Just like you wouldn’t sign up your baby for a “walking” class, you do not need to go to a “talking” class.

Early language and literacy skills flourish most in everyday interactions with your child—be it through shared reading sessions, conversational exchanges, mutual laughter, or play.

You are your Child’s first teacher

As you go about your daily routine with your child, you can help them learn and develop their language skills by naming things, singing to them, and responding to their words. It’s important to make language and communication a part of every interaction, not something separate.

Everyday activities like playing games, talking, introducing new words, looking at pictures in books, changing diapers, singing nursery rhymes, and feeding your child are all opportunities to engage them in language learning.

You are your child’s first and best teacher, and providing stimulation is a natural part of caring for them while doing everyday tasks like dressing, feeding, bathing, and playing together. 

Every baby is different and may have different needs for stimulation. By paying attention to their cues, you can provide the right level of stimulation for their individual needs.

What you need to know about infant speech development 

Most early language milestones are centered around listening and observing YOU. Early on, infants initiate eye contact, enjoy listening to their mother’s voice and communicate many feelings such as pleasure, anxiety, surprise and discomfort.

Language acquisition can be described as the entire communication system through which we interact. This system includes crying, facial expressions, body movements, gestures, and the ability to express feelings and thoughts through words. Both verbal and non-verbal communication are part of language development.

Long before speech is acquired, your baby desires to communicate. It is a joy simply to watch your baby and become aware of the subtleties of their communication, such as what they mean when they flail their hands or look around or squirm.

0-12 months communication milestones (adapted from UNICEF)

In the first year of life, infants normally babble a variety of sounds with various inflections, first to practice and complete the feedback loop of hearing. At around 12-15 months, first words appear, followed by two-word phrases and oftentimes lots of jargon so that your child sounds like he is talking in sentences.

Some of the key developments to look out for are:

2 months: Looks toward sounds and recognizes them.
Makes cooing noises.
4 months:Has different cries depending on whether baby is hungry, in pain or tired.
Baby will babble and try to imitate sounds
6 months:Will recognize and react to their name.
Puts vowel sounds together and likes taking turns saying them with you. 
Starting to make some consonant sounds.
Will respond to noises by making sounds.
Is making sounds to show positive and negative emotions.
9 months:Pointing at things with their fingers. 
Understands simple words such as “no”. 
Makes a variety of different sounds.
Will start to copy movements and sounds.
12 months:Uses basic gestures like waving and says basic words like “mama”,  “dada”, “hi”.
Babbles sound more like adult word speech.
Responds to simple requests you give, e.g. “hold the spoon”.
Will try to repeat words you say.

Understand that, as with anything child development-related, there is a large variety of normal and no two children are the same.

So what language development activities can you engage your infant in?

I have researched and compiled the most effective daily language activities for infants to support language development (so you don’t have to).

To help your baby develop their language skills, you don’t need any special training – you just need to make a conscious effort. Your baby’s first year is super important for their cognitive development, speech, and language, and they’re so eager to learn! 

Creating a nurturing environment for listening and communicating can be super simple – you can do it right at home.

1. Read to your baby

Reading to your little one is such a wonderful way to introduce them to new words and language structures! Even if they don’t understand the words just yet, the rhythm and sound of language will still have a positive impact on your child’s speech development.

Board books with bright, colorful illustrations and simple, repetitive text are an excellent choice for reading to your child. Take the time to point out and name familiar objects in the pictures. This can help your little one connect words with objects and develop their listening skills. 

Another great way to practice early literacy is to let your baby read a book themselves. Obviously, your baby won’t just start flipping pages and reading the words. Babies “read” with their whole bodies. They will grab a book and explore it by mouthing, shaking and chewing on it. 

The best books for this are from the Indestructible Book Series. It is made specifically for the way babies “read” and they are safe to be chewed on and cannot be ripped apart (we tried!).

2. Play a simple game of peek-a-boo

Simple back-and-forth games such as peek-a-boo are a fun way to connect body movement with speech. Playing uncomplicated games with your little one is a wonderful approach to familiarize them with turn-taking, reaction, and exchange skills, which are vital for their language development in the future.

It’s important to incorporate these games into your daily routine to encourage language development right from the start.

3. Sing songs for your baby

Simple songs such as lullabies or common nursery rhymes are a phenomenal way to expand your child’s vocabulary. You can use them to name body parts (“head, shoulders, knees and toes”) or objects or to introduce some baby sign language.

It’s a great way to incorporate a fun activity into your day. Listening to your voice is comforting for a young baby and it might encourage them to join in very soon.

4. Babble with them and practice taking turns

When babies babble, they’re actually practicing different sounds and word combinations, which is why it’s so important for their language development. If you want to help your little one, you can repeat the sounds they make and even introduce new ones.

For example, if your baby says “ba,” you can respond with “ba ba” or “ma ma.” And when you mimic their babbling, you’re showing them that you understand and appreciate what they’re trying to say.

5. Narrate what you are doing

Talking around babies frequently and consistently can really help their language development. This is called language immersion and it’s the most efficient way humans learn languages.

Babies are very keen listeners and it is great to have them around while you talk to someone else or, if alone, when you narrate what you are doing. It’s almost like you are telling them a story.

For example, you could tell them what you are preparing for breakfast and how you are making it. Use simple and short sentences and emphasize the sounds of certain words, such as objects you are naming or activities you are doing.

6. Engage in a baby conversation

It’s so important to talk to your baby every day, even if they don’t understand everything you’re saying just yet. You can chat with them during bath time while feeding them, or taking them out – treating them like any other member of the family. This helps them start to understand speech, and before you know it, they’ll be trying to communicate with you on their own! 

​To get their attention and to introduce them to intonation and emotion in speech, you can change the tone of your voice. For example, you can sound cheerful with a high-pitched voice, or somber and calm with a quieter voice.

7. Ask questions

Encourage your infant to “answer” (by looking, babbling, etc.) to your enthusiastic questions. This also invites them to be part of daily activities, such as a diaper change or feeding.

For example, you can ask them what the milk tastes like, if their belly is full, if they want to have a diaper change or if they need to go pee or poo. This introduces them to simple everyday words and transmits the idea that they are active participants in their lives and not just having things “done” to them.

8. Use gestures

We don’t just speak with words. Gestures are an important part of communication.

Communicating with your infant through gestures and facial expressions can be helpful before they learn to use words. This can aid in their understanding of language and make it easier for them to express themselves.

For instance, waving goodbye or pointing to objects can assist them in understanding what you are trying to convey. If you wave while saying “bye-bye,” your baby will understand that “bye-bye” means waving goodbye.

Encourage your baby to communicate with you using gestures. For example, reaching out their hand or pointing to a toy if they want it. When they use gestures to communicate, reply with words to help them understand that their communication is being comprehended.

Early Language Activities for Infants are Beneficial

Early language development is crucial for a child’s overall growth and future success. Children with a solid language foundation tend to perform better in school and achieve higher academic success.

Language skills are closely linked to cognitive development. Children with strong language abilities tend to excel in problem-solving, memory, and attention-based tasks. Additionally, children with advanced language skills can better express their thoughts and emotions, leading to improved social and emotional development.

So make sure to talk to your baby often, even if it seems silly!

Simply engage all of baby’s senses every day and don’t feel pressured to do anything “special”.

Unsure whether your infant’s speech is on track?

You can use the table above to get an idea of where your infant should roughly be with their speech development throughout the first year. I’d suggest not to assume the worst if your baby develops their speech later than the table suggests. Every child and every culture and language are different so there is a wide range of normal.

If you do think you want professional support with your child’s language development after you have tried yourself, you may want to seek out a speech-language pathologist.

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About The Author

Julia Billings

Hi, I'm Julia! I am a working mother, professional life & leadership coach, international HR expert, and motherhood advocate. Upon becoming a mom, I quit my coveted United Nations career to pursue more flexibility and freedom so I could be able to combine professional aspirations with how I wanted to show up as a mother. In my work as a coach, consultant and facilitator, I help other moms make similar bold decisions in their careers.

My approach integrates my 7 years of experience as international career & leadership development professional, my personal journey as a mother and my proficiency as a Certified Professional Coach (CPC) holding an M.Ed.

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