I first want to remind everyone that language development does depend on your child, just as any other skill. Both of my children have been ahead of the average in their language skills, but other things have been different. My son was always a very early "large motor skills" boy. My daughter has been more of a "fine motor skills" girl. They each had their early/late skills in both categories, but their areas of "expertise" have been in those departments.
While language does depend on the child, there is much you can do to influence it. Just like giving your child tummy time helps lead to crawling, practicing language skills will help your child develop language skills earlier.
This is an interesting topic, though. I have a good friend I went to Jr. High, High School, and College with. We both majored in English, though she took the teacher route and I the technical writing route. I mention her often; she also does Babywise. Her son also has very advanced language skills. We often talk about influence over children's language development. We wonder how much influence we have over it and how much is just the child. I do think there are things you can do to enhance your child's ability. On Becoming Babywise II has a chapter on language development (Appendix A). Here are their thoughts along with mine.
- Babytalk. Babywise says this isn't necessary, and I completely agree. It is not natural for me to do babytalk, so I have never done it. I am somewhat of a "grammar nazi" (earned that title in college). I speak correctly and for the most part in complete sentences. I pay attention to things of importance to me. For example, I encourage the use of antecedents in my son's speech (an antecedent is the noun used before the pronoun; the pronoun refers to the antecedent). You don't have to be obsessed with grammar; my good friend isn't. She claims to not care about grammar, but she always speaks and writes correctly. My point is to speak in full sentences. Call words what they are really called. Don't call the bottle a "ba-ba" because your baby does. Call it a bottle. Children learn language from you, so if you don't speak correctly, it will likely take them longer to do so.
- Talk. Talk to your child. Tell him what you are doing, what you see, how you are feeling, etc. And remember, you are the example. Your child is looking to you to learn his vocabulary, so only say things you want him saying. When your child communicates as best he can, you can repeat it the correct way. However, don't do it in an annoying, corrective way. My son will say he wants something and I will say, "Do you want your trucks out Brayden?" He will then say, "Yes, I want my trucks out" (or whatever his language ability equivalent is." This can get funny when your child uses irregular verbs. For example, he says, "Mama, I am hungry." I say, "You are hungry?" "Yes, I are hungry." These are moments I love :).
- Read. I am a huge proponent of reading. I have already done a post on it: Non-BW: The Value of Reading: http://babywisemom.blogspot.com/2008/01/non-bw-value-of-reading.html
- Expand. I talked about this under the talk bullet, but wanted to reiterate. When your child says a sentence incompletely, restate it correctly, but always in a way promoting conversation, not a way of criticizing.
- Sign Language. I do this with my kids. Here is the post on it: Non-BW: The Value of Reading: http://babywisemom.blogspot.com/2008/01/non-bw-value-of-reading.html
- Repeat. I will repeat a word my child is showing interest in. Today I was reading a book with Kaitlyn about baby animals. When she saw the chicken page, she got excited (for some odd reason). She was interested. I repeated the name of the animal and the sound it makes over and over. She wanted to know. Take advantage of the interest. As they learn words, they will often say them over and over, and delight in you joining in.
- Respond. When your child communicates with you, respond. Let him know you understood and show interest in it.
- Expectations. I expect Kaitlyn (11 months) to communicate with me. If it is a word she can say or sign, I require her to say or sign it. She loves communicating, so this is no problem. I also require this of my son. He will be resistant at times, especially now that baby sister gets what she wants without communicating as well as he does. He likes to point and grunt (is it a male thing? Only kidding--sort of ;) ). I can read the body language of both kids very well. I know exactly what they want, but I still require communication. When I see Kaitlyn "eye-ing" the bananas, I don't give her some. I ask her if she wants a banana, and she signs banana to me. If she wants something she isn't able to say, I say the word a lot and emphasize how to ask for it. Someday she will get it.
- Example. Be an example of everything you want of your child. This applies to all areas of life, but since we are talking about language development, I will focus on that. Read if you want your child to read. Speak correctly if you want your child to do so. Say 'please' and 'thank you' if you want those words included in your child's vocabulary.
- Relax. BW says to relax. Your child will develop language on his time table. You do want to be aware of milestones so you can know if your child is on track. Talk to your pediatrician about concerns. I know moms who have taken their children to speech pathologist and language delays were quickly fixed. But have appropriate expectations for your child's language development, keep the doctor in the loop, and then relax and wait for baby to talk when he is ready to talk.