Babies’ brains are hardwired to learn language and communication. The process of learning language happens earlier than you would expect. A study published in 2013 found that infants as young as 7 hours old were able to tell the difference between the vowel sounds of their mother’s language and those of a different language. This suggests that newborns can learn and remember basic sounds of their language from their mother during the last 10 weeks of pregnancy.
The development of early language skills helps build a foundation for future success in reading, learning, and social interaction. In fact, the vocabulary built by age five will predict a child’s future educational success and outcomes for when they are 30 years old!
Poor language skills can affect reading performance. This is because language knowledge provides the foundation of the vocabulary and grammar that’s necessary for understanding what you read. Use of correct speech sounds is also important for literacy because you must be able to recognize how specific letters are connected to specific sounds in order to decode words. Literacy outcomes directly affect educational achievement and future career opportunities.
If your baby is showing signs of developmental delay or if your toddler is a late talker, simply adopting a wait-and-see attitude could prove to be a mistake. Language delays and reading difficulties may be the window to diagnosing underlying learning problems. Here are some red flags for language delays:
- A family history of language or learning disorder
- Diagnosis of developmental delay, congenital anomaly (such as cleft palate), or traumatic injury
- History of multiple ear infections. A child cannot produce language if he/she cannot hear well
- “Quiet baby.” Baby makes few or no sounds between 6-10 months, no babbling.
- The child does not produce a “first word” between 12-15 months
- The child produces only a few words by 24 months
- The child does not produce two-word phrases by 2.5 years
A child’s communication environment influences language development. The number of books available to the child and the frequency of visits to the library are important predictors of the child’s expressive vocabulary at two years. Speech-language therapy can help if you question your child’s language development, and early intervention is most effective. In the meantime, chat away with your child. That conversation will flow between the two of you before you know it!
Call LifeScape for information on speech therapy for your child. In Sioux Falls: (605) 444-9700. In Rapid City: (605) 794-7100. In Sioux City: (712) 226-ABLE (2253).
-Beth Wienhold, MA, SLP-CCC, LifeScape Speech-Language Pathologist