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Babble – the building blocks of language

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The Oxford dictionary defines “babbling” as “to talk rapidly and continuously in a foolish, excited, or incomprehensible way” or to “utter something rapidly and incoherently”.  This definition does somehow not do justice to the “babbling” that babies engage in… babbling that is a pre-linguistic skills and forms an important part of language development and learning.

 

In the first few months of life, babies make noises to show pleasure, when they are unhappy or uncomfortable and in response to an adult’s voice. They produce involuntary sounds such as grunts, signs and burps… but at around 4 weeks, they start to produce more voluntary sounds such as coos, giggles, squeals and gurgles!  They also start to make vowel sounds such as “aaa” and “eee” and by 4-5 months, they will combine these with consonants sounds, such as “a-da” or “a-ga”.

 

By 6 months, babies begin stringing repetitive consonant-vowel syllables (e.g. da-da-da; ba-ba-ba) and start to play around more with pitch and intonation.  Around 8 months, they start to repeat syllables and mix consonant-vowel combinations so that their babble gradually becomes more complex and varied. At 9-10 months, babies start to imitate sounds that are in their repertoire and their babbling starts to resemble their native language.  They will imitate the sing-song tone of adult speech – known as “conversational babble” or “jargon”.  At 10-12 months, babies start to use proto-words such as “dada” and “mama”.  Proto-words sound similar to real words but aren’t quite.  However they are different from babble in that a baby uses them with meaning (e.g. “dada” to name/call daddy).  This stage is the precursor to using real words.

 

If a baby does not engage in babbling in the usual way, this may be a sign of a medical or developmental difficulty.  For example, babbling may be delayed or absent in babies with a hearing impairment, autism, language delay or a learning difficulty.  If you are concerned about your baby, talk to your GP, Health visitor or Speech and Language therapist.

 

How can you help your baby?

Learning to communicate and talk is a highly complex skill.  Talking to your baby and encouraging their babble is an important part of supporting their language and communication development.

  • Talk to your baby as you go about your daily activities, routines and in play. Chat to them about where you are going and what you are doing.
  • Respond to your baby’s movements, actions and involuntary noises. Talk to them, smile and show them you are watching and listening to them.
  • Get down to your baby’s level, so you are face to face with them. Gain their eye contact and smile and respond when your baby babbles at you.
  • Imitate your baby’s sounds and see if they respond. Babble new sounds to your baby and see if they will copy you
  • Model symbolic noises to your baby when you are sharing books or “out and about”. For example, animals noises (e.g. woof-woof, quack-quack) , vehicle noises (e.g. broom-broom, choo-choo)
  • Sing songs to your baby and play interactive games (e.g. “round and round the garden”, tickling games)