How a Baby Learns to Communicate

The ability to communicate with your child through language opens up a whole new world of relationship enriching opportunities to parents.  Parents battle to understand the needs of a crying baby, but through language they can understand exactly what the problem is.  Developing the ability to use language is a complex and creative process that takes time.

Before a baby can speak, they are able to understand language.  In the process of acquiring language, a baby goes through different phases of vocalization:

  • Undifferentiated crying (from birth to one month): During this phase the baby uses crying as a call for attention.  The cry is undifferentiated, because the listener cannot differentiate between a cry indicating hunger, thirst, fear, discomfort or pain.  This tyope of cry is seen as a reflex.
  • Differentiated crying (from about 2 months): During this phase the parents are able to distinguish between the different types of crying.  The baby uses different pitches and sound patterns to indicate their needs.
  • Cooing and Babbling (from about 2 to 6 months): Cooing refers to the throat sounds babies make when they are happy and content or even excited.  Babbling refers to the repetition of simple vowel and consonant-combinations, for example “da-da-da” or “ma-ma-ma”.
  • Seven to Eight Months: The baby repeats words and sounds that he hears. This repetition is accidental or incorrect, but forms a necessary foundation for communication.
  • Nine to Ten Months: This is the phase where you find repetition of words and sounds.  Here the sounds and words are more correct and purposeful.
  • Single word sentences (from one year onwards): During this phase the baby starts saying understandable words.  He uses these words to communicate with others.  Single words are often meant to communicate complex ideas or requests, for instance the word “bottle” can mean “I am hungry” or even “I finished my bottle of milk”.
  • Use of Sentences: This is the final stage of language development.  Two word sentences is the first  sentences used, for example “Baby hungry” or “Mamma gone”.  Baby starts using more words in sentence construction, but often with grammatical mistakes.  Gradually the child becomes able to use more complex sentences to communicate with those around him.

A child of two years generally have a vocabulary of about 300 words.  At three it increases to 1000 words, at five  2000 words and when going to school he can use 3000 words accurately.  Girls tend to acquire language faster than boys, as well as children of higher social economic groups.  Intelligence also plays a role in language development.

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