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Debunking common baby talk myths

For Stephanie Deline, hearing her daughter, Cadence, say “dada” at five-and-a-half months was a moment of pride. A singer, she may have expected her daughter to inherit her vocal skills, but she credits Cadence’s advanced linguistic abilities with the fact that she and her husband, Jordan, made a conscious effort to communicate with their baby daily. “We spoke directly to her. We sang and read to her. We thought it was important to communicate with her,” she says. 

While most of us know songs, books and speech can help improve babies’ vocabulary and linguistic skills. Sharon Weisz, Speech-Language Pathologist and Director of Toronto Speech Therapy says many parents have misconceptions about how early their baby should begin speaking and what their first words should be.

Myth: Only “Real” Words Count:

Baby’s first words may not be pronounced clearly, but Sharon says as long as the sounds mean the same thing each time, it can be considered a word. “If the child says ‘kiki’ to mean ‘milk’, telling them it’s not the right word (or jumping to correct pronunciation) can discourage them from talking. Instead say, ‘Oh, you want your milk’,” says Sharon. Acknowledging the invented word gives them encouragement to continue speaking and teaches them how to take turns in conversation. Repeating the correct word reinforces their receptive linguistic skills.

Myth: My Child is one and still isn’t speaking. Something must be wrong: 

While most babies begin speaking around 12 months of age, Sharon says not to panic if your child is still babbling by their first birthday. “Twelve months is a guideline, give or take a couple of months,” she says. By 18 months, Sharon says babies should have a vocabulary of ten to 20 words. If your child still hasn’t begun to vocalize by 18 months, they may benefit from seeing a speech-language pathologist. At 24 months, most children are able to use 100–150 words and start creating two-word phrases.

Myth: My Child’s First Word Should be “Mama”: 

While every mother wants to feel recognized as the most important person in her baby’s life, Sharon says don’t feel disappointed if “mama” isn’t the first word to leave your baby’s lips. “Babies choose words for things that they’re exposed to often, such as a favourite toy or food, often saying the word with the intention of drawing your attention to it, as if to say ‘mommy, look, I see a car’, or request something, as in ‘give me the ball’,” says Sharon. Saying “mama” may not be particularly useful, especially if you’re standing right there.

What does a speech-language pathologist do?

A speech-language pathologist does a full evaluation of linguistic abilities. Through play and discussions, the speech-language pathologist examines whether your child makes eye contact when spoken to, whether they understand what’s being said to them and whether they’re making an effort to communicate their needs by pointing at an object or making sounds. After assessing your child’s abilities a program will be recommended, which could include a parent education class.

Try these Simple Strategies to get your baby talking:

  • Speak slowly
  • Bend down to Baby’s face level
  • Repeat words and simple phrases 
  • Imitate Baby’s sounds to show them the art of conversation and encourage them to practise speaking 
  • Be patient. When someone asks your child a question, wait for a response. Don’t immediately speak for your child.

a man carrying two children

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