1. Bundoo: When do most babies say their first word? What is the range of “normal” considered in terms of a first word?
Answer : Cara Barthelette: Most babies will say their first word around the time of their first birthdays. Twelve months is the average age, although “normal” development can vary from about 11-14 months. A real word is different from babbling. When babbling, babies are experimenting with vocal play. However, when using a true word, there will be meaning and intention behind the word, and they will use the word on more than just one occasion.
2. Is there anything parents can do to help their babies get to that first word? On the other hand, is there any benefit to “helping” a child talk faster, or is it preferable to let a child take his or her time?
Answer : Parents can be an invaluable resource in contributing to their baby’s speech and language development. Parents can talk to their child frequently, be responsive to their baby’s attempts to communicate, play back and forth games, and sing and read to their baby daily.
Parents should make every effort to encourage their child’s language skills. Children who are not surrounded by language-rich stimulation can suffer. Children who are not spoken to and read to on a regular basis have smaller vocabularies and are often unprepared for school in the early years, which can have long-term effects.
That being said, typically-developing children in healthy language environments will learn to talk and reach milestones at their own pace. Parents can encourage language development, but ultimately there is no way to make a child talk before he or she is ready. Unless a child is greatly lagging behind, there’s no need for parents to be overly concerned about exactly when a child says his or her first word (as long as within the range of normal). Saying his or her first word a month or two earlier isn’t going to have an impact on the rest of a child’s life or make him or her any smarter. However, talking earlier might benefit parent and child in the short term by alleviating frustrations and possibly cutting down on some tantrums. What parent wouldn’t welcome that?
3. More and more children are living in bilingual homes. What effect does this have on learning to talk?
Answer : Being raised in a bilingual home can be a wonderful language experience for a young child. Contrary to common myths, learning more than one language does not harm speech and language development. Children learning more than one language typically follow the same path as children learning one language in terms of reaching language milestones. Sometimes dual language learners will mix words from both languages as they are learning, or they may go through a brief silent period. This is a normal part of learning more than one language and not a sign of a language problem.
4. Are there any red flags before the first birthday that parents should look for when it comes to language acquisition and oral motor skills?
Answer : There are red flags for parents to look out for before a child’s first birthday that can indicate potential speech and language problems. Such as:
No joyful smiles or back-and-forth interaction with caregiver (sharing smiles, facial expressions, or sounds)
Not responding to name
Not gesturing to communicate (pointing, waving, showing others)
Unable to imitate sounds
Doesn’t seem to hear or understand speech when spoken to
Loss of previously acquired speech or language skills.
If parents notice any of these red flags from their baby, they should promptly address these concerns with their pediatrician, in addition to consulting with a speech-language pathologist.
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