How to Promote Language Development in Infants

Language development begins in the womb and continues throughout a lifetime 1. New research conducted by the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington confirms that babies begin learning the vowel sounds of the mother's language before they are born. Language skills expand dramatically throughout infancy. By exposing your infant to activities that involve language -- such as reading and talking to him -- you can help him in his quest to master language and build early literacy and language skills 1.

Talk to your baby as your perform daily routines, such as bathing, feeding and playing. Even though a newborn may not understand the meaning of your words, by the time she's six months old, she'll begin figure it out, says George Hollich, associate professor in the department of psychological sciences at Purdue University. Talking to your baby and naming common objects helps her tune in to the meaning of words.

Use descriptive and positional words when talking to your baby. Words that describe where one thing is in relation to another -- such as over and under, in and out, and up and down -- teach your baby that language goes beyond simply naming objects and can be used to communicate ideas. Descriptive phrases like "soft teddy," "warm sunshine" and "happy baby" also help him expand his language development 1.

Read to your baby and allow her to look at the illustrations in simple picture books. Sturdy cardboard books with pictures of animals and common objects help young infants learn to name the things around them. Look for books with colorful pictures and simple text. Gradually expose your baby to more complex books that involve descriptive and positional words or text with lots of repetition.

Sing songs or nursery rhymes to your baby. Those accompanied by simple actions, such as clapping, appeal to infants and small children. Associating actions with words helps your baby learn that language communicates thoughts, ideas and feelings.

Ask questions as soon as your baby is old enough to respond. Initially, questions like "What's that?" or "Where is the ball?" can be answered with one word or by pointing. As your baby matures, include questions like "What is the doggy doing?" and "What are your building?" to encourage verbal responses.

Play with your baby often and talk to him as you play. Get in the habit of describing what you're doing -- "Oh, you are making a tower" or "I'm putting the baby to bed." It doesn't matter whether you're building with blocks or having fun feeding a baby doll. What matters is providing your baby with an environment filled with opportunities to hear and use language.


Begin teaching colors and shapes by referring to them often. Pointing out the blue cup or round ball helps your little one learn about colors and shapes long before he is ready to name them.


Beware of the language you use around your baby to make sure baby's first words are words you approve of.