Thow Mei Kuen, Senior Speech Therapist at the Rehabilitation Centre of Mount Alvernia Hospital, explains how babies go from ‘goo goo gaa gaa’ to speaking and reading.
Babies can understand what you are saying long before they can clearly speak. According to Mei Kuen, babies starts learning language from the day they are born, through the perception of body language, gestures and auditory input. Some research even suggests that learning starts in the womb, from as early as 10 weeks old.
In bilingual environments, babies will learn and acquire both languages. For example, a grandparent may only speak to the baby in dialect, while the parents only use English. The language to which the baby is exposed the most is likely to become the dominant language. “Babies are able to learn more than you can imagine!” Mei Kuen added.
CONSISTENCY IS KEY
The success and speed of your baby picking up a language depends on how many languages are being introduced and how consistently the same word is being used in reference to an object.
“For example, in an English-only environment, a parent might call milk by a variety of words – from ‘mmm’, ‘bottle’, ‘wa wa’ to ‘mu mu’. If the word is not used consistently and frequently, the baby may not be able to associate the word with the object,” cautioned Mei Kuen.
AND NOW TIME TO READ
Mei Kuen advises that you can start reading to your baby as early as possible, so long as the reading materials are age-appropriate. However, there is another school of thought that believes reading should be introduced at a much later age.
“Start with awareness first before diving straight in to letter recognition,” suggested Mei Kuen. Most babies like to help turn the pages of books that are being read to them, and may even point to the pictures that interest them or have been highlighted repeatedly to them. They may even start ‘choosing’ the books they want their parents to read to them!
Article contributed by Thow Mei Kuen, Senior Therapist at the Rehabilitation Centre of Mount Alvernia Hospital.