Who will he look like? What will he sound like? What will he be like? Mamas, we are all guilty of asking these questions during pregnancy. There are simply so many uncertainties, although I will admit, the one thing I used to think about the most was: “What will be the best way to teach him language?” I am sure that being a certified bilingual speech-language pathologist has some sort of influence on me pondering this thought over and over again, right? Here are 5 communication tips that I have incorporated and found to be successful during my son, Enzo’s, first year of life.
Tip #1: Incorporate SONGS
It may not sound as easy as it is, but it totally is. What I love the most about incorporating songs is that you can make them anything you want them to be during daily routines. Yes, I said DAILY! Here is an example. Every single morning, I sing this song to Enzo: “Una cortina, otra cortina, y es de DIA!” while I open the curtains, and open the blinds. We wave “Hello” as we look out of his bedroom window. Same thing goes for the bedtime routine. Every single night, I sing “Una cortina, otra cortina, y es de NOCHE!” as I shut the blinds, and close the curtains. We say “Goodnight” to Slinky and Rex from Toy Story, since they sit near the window.
With so much repetition, Enzo learned the routine, the rhythm, and the expectations. We also incorporate songs during toothbrushing (i.e. “This is the way we brush our teeth…”), during mealtime (i.e. “Limpia, limpia, limpia!” as we wipe down the table), and special playlists for daily routines (i.e. “Enzo’s Tunes Playlist” at the start of every bath time), the possibilities are endless! The importance here is REPEAT, REPEAT, REPEAT, and MODEL, MODEL, MODEL!
Tip #2: Incorporate PLAY
There is no better way for a child to learn all about communication, language, and interactions than through play. This is the default mode for a child. They are constantly learning, growing, and thriving. I mean, you have probably heard the saying, “Children’s brains are like sponges. They absorb everything!” Now that is no joke. While we teach new play routines and allow your child to discover new play routines, we can utilize the language strategies called parallel play and self-talk.
Parallel play is when you narrate what YOUR child is doing through play. This is how a typical script goes during my narration of Enzo playing with his cars. “Beep beep. Como tocas la bocina del carro. Me gusta tu carro rojo! Ready, set, go! Wow! Vroom Vroom. Que rapido andas en el carro.” On the other hand, self-talk is exactly what it sounds like. Narrate what YOU are doing. This is how a typical script goes when I am playing with Enzo’s cars. “Woah! Uh-oh. Donde esta el carro? Ahi esta el carro! Mira! El carro esta arriba. El carro esta abajo.” The importance here is using ACTION words, DESCRIPTIVE words, LOCATION words!
Tip #3: Incorporate MEANING
This may sound totally obvious, but I cannot stress this part enough. Language needs to be meaningful in order for a child to be engaged, motivated, and actually understand what is being spoken. How do we add meaning? We add context, we add familiar faces, we add things the child enjoys, and we add things that we enjoy. After all, we are raising our child(ren) in our unique culture, language, etc. If you are going to talk about the swing at the park, then show your child a picture or visit the park and go for a swing! Don’t just speak empty words, add meaning. The importance here is MEANING is linked to learning language and overall communication abilities.
Tip #4: Incorporate SIGNS
Now, before you stop reading because I said incorporate signs, hear me out. Have you ever been to the airport or mall? Now, have you ever needed guidance? It surely has happened to me. What is the first thing you look for? Either security (if you are lucky to find them at either location) or a handy, dandy map! Now, imagine a map without visuals. Only words all over the map. I don’t know about you, but I would be even more frustrated about having to read where to go than actually being lost. When we add common signs to our child’s daily routines, we are setting them up for success to understand and initiate communication.
I have witnessed this with Enzo. We started off with his most common needs: “mas,” “leche,” “se acabo,” “jugar” (in English, “more,” “milk,” “all done,” “play”). In daily routines, I model these 4 signs within context to add meaning. After constant exposure to these words and signs, Enzo has learned the meaning (based on his reaction when I model the sign) and he uses these 4 signs, both independently and within context (and of course, not perfectly because he is still developing his fine motor skills). I can get on my soapbox about the benefits of signs, but I will leave that for another time. For now, just know, incorporating signs is only augmenting your child’s communication abilities and interactions for the present and future. It is adding a visual to the language(s) they are being exposed to. The importance here is CONSISTENCY WITHIN CONTEXT.
Tip #5: Incorporate FAMILY
Raising a child takes a village! That is a true statement that I am surely living out, as my husband and I raise our first baby. Remember earlier when we talked about meaning, we also mentioned family? We need our closest ones to also be on board and informed about the tips and tricks we are using to teach our babies all about language!
In my case, my mother-in-law and mom take turns caring for our son while we are working. Throughout these last 12 months, my husband and I have modeled language for both of them during Enzo’s daily routines, with songs, during play, with meaning, and using signs. You can tell it is extra special for Enzo because it carries meaning for him, comfort. Each family member has their own way of interacting with Enzo and being able to witness how they learn how to make language learning more fun for him is priceless. The importance here is to remember we are all on the same team and each person contributes something valuable!
All in all, some key points I want you to remember: Learning language is a process and it is natural. Children learn best within context, with their loved ones, and during meaningful activities. You add meaning to the activities by following your child’s lead and teaching your child new ways to speak, listen, play, and do life all around, together! I hope these 5 communication tips to incorporate in the first year of life are deemed useful for you and your child(ren). Oh, and it is never too late to start!