Babies can’t TALK! Having a conversation with an infant may sound absurd. However, the fact is that long before babies learn actual words they are practicing many conversational skills. These skills will grow into adult skills over the next 10-20 years (actually, conversation is probably one of those things that can be considered a life long learning process).
Infants begin their conversational journey with a simple social smile
Infants begin imitating motor movements within a few short months of life. Early in that process you might not even notice it’s an imitation unless you are specifically looking for it. Sure enough, as the baby gains control over his/her motor movement the imitation becomes clearer.
Similarly, given some pause time infants will learn to vocalize in turn. The playful vocal exchanges that occur between a caregiver and infant are the first noticeable steps toward conversation.
Another important skill is
“joint focus of attention”.
This is when the child is focused on the same thing as the adult. It is “trained into being” by the way a parent begins talking about an object or toy the baby is experiencing or engaging with the same moment. Over time, the child begins to follow a pointing finger to reference an object slightly further away.
As this attention improves the baby’s brain begins to collect data on sounds he/she hears. When enough input occurs the baby begins to recognize patterns.
With the repetition of words and phrases that occur in a rich linguistic environment eventually meaning “hatches” out of the sea of caregiver vocalizations.
Over time, through trial and error, the baby begins to participate verbally more and more. It takes a few more years before the interaction between caregiver and child can be recognized as an actual conversation. However, the learning process begins at birth. By 4 years of age the typically developing child is already fairly competent.
If you pause long enough to think of all the complexities of conversation development you can see brain development is truly miraculous. I’m really not sure if that’s a common observation in the general public. I imagine most other speech- language pathologists do share in my awe of the process.
For more in depth information about how to facilitate the process of creating a rich linguistic environment check out our gift box “The Babble Box” or consider an extended monthly subscription to “Babbling with Babies”. A similar gift set is available for parents (or therapists) of children aged 3-5 called “Chatting with Children”.