I spoke to a group of new moms at Greenwich Hospital yesterday and wanted to share what was on their minds:
1. Should I talk baby talk to my baby?
I want to make a clear distinction between “baby talk” which is using babyish words for things such as “ba ba” for bottle or “blankie” for blanket. No, you shouldn’t talk baby talk and use incorrect words for objects. Use the adult words, “bottle” and “blanket” or else your child will learn to speak using the incorrect names. Baby talk does NOT refer to the wonderful little sounds that your baby is making. Those “coo” and “goo” sounds are his attempt to communicate with you and you DO want to answer him. When he says, “la,” then you repeat “la.” Pause a second before repeating what he says. Research actually shows that by pausing, it helps your baby increase his attention span and take in new vocabulary.
2. My three-month-old doesn’t seem interested in books. What should I do?
When I questioned this mom further she was concerned because her baby looked at mom’s face instead of the book. I say, “Wonderful!” He is getting all that great language along with watching your facial expressions and delight in reading a book. Often times when I read to a baby, they are in a baby seat, so they can look back and forth from me to the book. I also made the point that reading to your baby doesn’t always mean reading all the print from start to finish. If your baby is fascinated with a beautiful illustration of bright contrasting colors, stay on that page and talk about it.
3. Will my baby benefit from listening to me read out loud the adult book that I am reading or does it have to be a children’s book?
Infants benefit from hearing the “rhythm” of our language when we speak or read to them. A newborn benefits from hearing conversation directed at her as well as reading. You can read The New York Times or your favorite parenting book out loud and she will be building her language connections. As she approaches around 3 months of age, she will be more interested in hearing the rhythmic, rhyming dialogue in a board book along with watching the bright, contrasting illustrations.
4. What should I do when my baby seems bored with her toys?
You don’t need a large number of toys for your baby but make sure they have the characteristics of a good language toy (see my article on how to pick a good language toy). Babies are attracted to faces and talk more to faces so make sure you have plenty of critters with eyes to attract her and encourage verbalizing.
5. My mother and I are speaking some Vietnamese to my son. Is that enough to help him become bilingual?
I am often asked how much exposure a child needs to a foreign language to become proficient in that second language. A foreign language class once a week is not enough to build the understanding and expression of a second language. In a recent article in the New York Times, February 2, 2008, language specialist Roberta Golinkoff says, “being immersed in the language and living within it are what lead to language learning, not 20 minutes of exposure to a limited set of vocabulary and sentence structures or attendance at a weekly one-hour Spanish class.” The best way for this mom to help her son be proficient in Vietnamese, is to continue to have his grandmother speak only Vietnamese and have mom do the same. I assume his dad will speaking English and he will be exposed to English everywhere else he goes throughout his day.