Friday, July 29, 2005

Baby's First Words

Listen carefully, and you may find that your baby is "talking" long before you expect this big event. We all know that little ones understand language long before they can respond in kind, but the gap may not be as large as most people think.

Listen carefully to your baby's babbling, and you may find that there is a funny consistency about it. Baby may be making the same sounds in the same situations, over and over and over again. The sounds may seem to be random, but I bet that you will find patterns there if you look. Your baby may well be making his or her first attempts to talk!

When my firstborn was that age, I was thinking that she wouldn't pop out with her first recognizable word until she was somewhere around twelve months of age. I wasn't listening carefully! I have no idea now when it all started, but it was much earlier than the twelve months that my pediatrician and other experts were saying.

I remember clearly one evening when my husband had given her a bath. She was lying on her changing table getting dry and comfy, when he yelled "Come Quick!" I raced into the nursery, sure that there was some sort of crisis. He said, "Listen to this:" He pulled his hand back and got a silly grin on his face. The little one squealed in delight just the way babies do when they are anticipating a fun game about to begin. Then it happened. She made a really odd noise that sounded like a bunch of consonants all strung together. I could pick out a t sound, a k sound and an l sound. My ever-thinking better half responded by tickling the baby while she squealed and giggled.

He stopped and pulled his hand back to get ready for another round, and she said it again: t-k-l. He tickled once more. She was trying to say "Tickle!" There wasn't an I sound anywhere in sight, but she had all of the other sounds in the right order. If he hadn't been listening carefully, we never would've noticed, since her version wasn't very loud or clear. Try saying "tickle" without putting an I sound in it, and you will see what I mean. It comes out as a kind of a whisper, since most of those sounds are what speech experts call "unvoiced." They sound the same whether you are whispering them or saying them out loud.

Once we heard that, we began to listen for other patterns. Whenever she saw her bottle, she said, "Bung-gah!" Didn't sound much like "bottle" to me, but she surely knew what she was trying to say. She even had nightmares about it! I heard her crying one night and went into her room to see her lying in her crib sound asleep, and yelling "Bung-gah! Bung-gah! Bung-gah!" while she reached her arms up imploringly. I can only guess that she was dreaming about a bung-gah that was out of reach or being taken away while she still wanted it.

It wasn't long after we noticed the "tkl" and the "bung-gah" that "kyock"appeared every time our big grandfather clock chimed. There was now absolutely no doubt in our minds: the baby was definitely talking and getting better and better all the time. She had indeed uttered her first word, weird as it was, at about nine months. By twelve months, she was talking a blue streak with over a hundred words that we could recognize.

Now, I don't know if all babies do this, but my three all did. Their first words were only there if we listened carefully. I don't know if they would've continued to talk so much and so early if we hadn't encouraged those first strange sounds. Others around us told us repeatedly that we were imagining things, but when you stop to consider, it makes a lot of sense. Babies don't have really good motor control at these very early ages. It's quite possible that those first words are so garbled and slurred that some parents don't recognize them for what they are.

So be on the look out. Listen VERY carefully. Watch for sounds that are made over and over in the same circumstances. Your baby may be trying to tell you something long before you expect him or her to talk.

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