When will my baby talk? Change title to "Understanding the Development of Speech."

August 20, 2015.

By: Shefali Shah

Parents can’t wait for their baby's first words to come tumbling out and then a couple of years later they can't wait for their child to go to bed so that the chatter for the day ceases!Parents of babies with hearing loss are understandably anxious for their baby to talk too!

Given the presence of hearing loss, there are some "facts" regarding the development of speech in babies with normal hearing that need to be understood.

1.Listening precedes talking. The growing foetus is connected to the world of sound from 20 weeks. This means that new-borns have been listening prior to birth. Yet it is not until they are approximately eighteen months old that the first word emerges i.e. after a total of close to two years of listening. Babies with hearing loss too need space to be allowed to listen. This means that they need to be appropriately fitted with hearing aids as close to birth as possible and they need to wear their hearing aids everyday through all their waking hours to maximise listening time. Nature shows us that the more that baby’s listen, the earlier they will talk.

2. Babies with normal hearing are constantly being spoken to. Parents, grandparents, extended family, friends, shopkeepers, by-standers and even taxi drivers are constantly engaging a baby or toddler in conversation. It doesn’t matter that the young listener is looking elsewhere or yawning or even crying, they continue to talk to the young child regardless. This highlights the fact that babies and toddlers with normal hearing are surrounded by and immersed in the world of conversation through all their waking hours.Yet we continue to be amazed that by age three years, these little children are prattling away having full scale conversations with friends, strangers and even dolls.

Following the principles of Nature described above and given the brain’s pre-disposition to spoken language, it is important that we mirror this conversational behaviour with our baby, toddler and young child with hearing loss.It is difficult to keep this up when our little partner may likely not respond but if it is the best chance we have to bring him or her to conversation, then there can be no dilemma. Yet if we do, just as it happens with babies and toddlers with normal hearing, conversation will emerge in our youngster with hearing loss.

3. Babble and Jargon precede first words. Babies with normal hearing produce an abundance of sounds, some repititive and some highly varied. This is called babbling. At the age of three months, babies produce these sounds reflexively but by the age of six months they are doing it in response to their talking environments. The more their environments respond, the more they will babble. Babbling babies are experimenting with the sound combinations that they are creating; delighting in the sound of their own voice and in the joy that this creates in the adults who love them and take care of them.

By the age of approximately ten months, babies with typical hearing develop a system of spoken communication that closely resembles actual words but are not real words. They sound literally like they are talking. This is called jargon. They are using all the 'rules' of conversation that they have been listening to, to create their own little conversation-like interchanges. As jargon grows and becomes more sophisticated, it translates into first words.These first words may not be clearly pronounced but they are used with purpose to refer to a specific person or object. With practice and with the encouragement of those who love the child, they get refined to resemble true words.

Your baby with hearing loss will follow the same pattern. Feed back to your baby the sounds that s/he produced and this will encourage even more babbling. Reply to your baby's 'questions', 'squeals' and jargon, without correcting clarity or pronunication. In doing so, you are propelling your baby to first words, just like his or her playmates with normal hearing.

Celebrate and record the new sounds your baby with hearing loss produces. Babbling and jargon are important milestones in the development of spoken language and essential pre-requisites for those first words you are waiting for.