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Recommended reading Talking to babies Stages: Birth to 2 months Stages: 3 to 6 months

Talking to pēpi has huge long-term benefits for them, because:

  • talking strengthens the relationship between them and their whānau
  • the more words pēpi hears in their early years, the more words they’ll be able to use later on
  • experiences of being spoken to, listened to, read to, and sung to have a positive impact on mokopuna and their:
    • understanding of the language(s) their whānau speaks
    • ability to express themselves
    • ability to build relationships with others
    • ability to play and work with others
    • success at school and in life.

How can whānau best talk to their pēpi?

  1. Choose a time when their pēpi is fed, comfortable and in a quiet, alert state.
  2. Talk face-to-face — when babies can watch their parent’s mouth while they hear the sounds their parents are making, they are making connections in their brain for their language(s) of their whānau.
  3. Make sure pēpi can see the faces speaking to them. Held  so their faces are about 30 cm away from each other, will ensure pēpi can see them clearly — interesting that this is about the same distance between mama and pēpi faces during breastfeeding.
  4. Use a style of talking called ‘parentese’ — this means talking more slowly, exaggerating mouth movements and using a higher pitch. Babies can hear this sort of talking more easily (so can pets).
  5. After saying something to pēpi, give them a few moments to respond before talking again — their response could be an interested look, a mouth movement and/or a sound. Pēpi is learning about taking turns having a conversation, which ultimately helps with other kinds of turn-taking, such as sharing toys.
  6. Whānau can talk about anything with their pēpi. Talk about the day they're having, about what pēpi is doing and what they're doing. The important thing is that pēpi sees their mouths and hears the sounds in the language(s) of their whānau.
  7. In the first year, a baby who’s had plenty of experiences of face-to-face talking will have made connections in their brain for the vowels and consonants used in their language(s).  Connections in the brain for the sounds they hear over and over again are being strengthened, while the connections for sounds they don’t hear become more fragile and may be ‘pruned’.
  8. Pēpi can learn other languages from the very beginning as well. It may help them if each person consistently uses one language when talking face-to-face with baby.
  9. Singing face-to-face is an effective and enjoyable way to build baby’s language.
  10. Saying rhymes and reading books is another way of building language capability.
  11. Mokopuna need many repetitions of seeing mouths talking and hearing the sounds that match to make and strengthen brain connections for language.

Further information

The linguistic genius of babiesOpens in new window  (TED talk 10 min 10 sec) Watch Patricia Kuhl, Professor of Speech and Hearing Sciences share astonishing findings about how babies learn one language over another.

 

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