The grand adventure of learning how to communicate starts with your child’s very first gurgle and continues until she tells you what happened on her first day of kindergarten.
The grand adventure of learning how to communicate starts with your child’s very first gurgle and continues until she tells you what happened on her first day of kindergarten. Throughout this journey, you will be her most important guide.
Your child starts to prepare for her grand linguistic adventure even before birth. The part of the brain responsible for hearing activates during the fifth month of pregnancy. When she hears your voice through the wall of your abdomen, she becomes familiar with the rhythms and sounds of her mother tongue. “During the last trimester of pregnancy, the fetus is very attentive to surrounding sounds,” explains Dr. Dominique Cousineau, pediatrician and head of Sainte-Justine Hospital’s Development Centre in Montreal.
At birth, babies communicate with their eyes. Your baby will quickly become mesmerized by your face and try to follow you with her eyes. She’ll also communicate with you by smiling or imitating your facial expressions. She already prefers her mother’s voice to any other.
Then, your baby will experiment with sounds like “a-a-a” or “e-e-e.” From one month to the next, her sounds will become more complex, and she will form syllable sequences like “baba, mama, dada.” “We’ve noticed that the first sounds in any language are very similar. This is probably why the words to say “mommy” and “daddy” are so comparable across the globe. They’re easy sounds to make,” says Dr. Cousineau.
As the months go by, your child will start to recognize certain words that you use often. She will also try to communicate with you more deliberately. She will first develop her body language, stretching out her hand and pointing to the objects she wants with her finger. Then, she will try to reproduce the sounds she hears around her.
Soon, she will be able to use words that designate people, routines or familiar objects, such as “mama,” “dada,” “milk” or “dodo.” She understands simple instructions like “come here” or “sit down” more and more. “From then on, everything clicks into place. I would even say that everything goes full speed ahead,” says Dr. Cousineau.
Children understand more words than they actually use.
As she grows, your child will want to express herself more clearly. She will start putting words together. Her first sentences are made up of only two words. For example, after a meal, she’ll say: “finish eating.” Her new experiences will continue to feed her desire to name what she’s experiencing.
Next, your child will start to familiarize herself with the rules of grammar. This will allow her to formulate complete, and longer and longer sentences. Instead of saying “want cookie,” she’ll say: “I want a cookie.” Her pronunciation will continue to improve. A stranger can now understand her more easily, even if she still makes little mistakes. Occasionally, she may say, “they was…” or “more better,” for example. But she can tell you about her day, answer your questions and follow complex instructions, like rules to a game adapted to her age. Longer sentences usually include more small words (like “I,” “my,” “and”) and they express more developed ideas (e.g.: “because”).
Just before starting kindergarten, a child has usually mastered the basics of language. “At four years old, children are considered young adults with regards to language,” says Dr. Cousineau. “They are able to perform complex verbal operations.” They build their sentences correctly, even if some sounds remain difficult to pronounce. They understand the stories that are read to them, can tell you what happened to them in detail and maintain a conversation. In other words, they’re ready to start school.