Hearing is an important and necessary part of speech development. Babies are now given a hearing test at birth, as if there are any difficulties they are detected early so that measures can be taken to optimise the development of language and speech.
As with most development, it is an on-going process. So what can your baby hear at different ages?
In the first few weeks after birth, babies have a strong startle reflex – responding to bright lights and sudden noise. They jerk as a result, with both their arms and legs. Surprisingly they start to make simple sounds like ‘owh’ and ‘eh’. This indicates a particular needs such as tiredness and wind. You can read more about this and how to interpret their sounds in a previous article I’ve written about the Dunstan Baby Language http://theparentingcafe.com.au/the-5-words-your-newborn-says/
They will respond to sounds, without understanding where they come from, and they love to hear your voice, which is a familiar sound from in utero!
From 6 weeks to 3 ½ months babies will start to turn in the direction of sounds they hear, and they will ‘know’ your voice and may show excitement when you speak, by smiling at you, or ‘talking’ to you.
From this very early age they are learning about conversation, and you may notice that when you speak to them, and then stop, they will often ‘talk’ back to you and wait for you to respond – simply amazing!
From 3 ½ – 5 ½ months you’ll notice how they react to a variety of sounds and voices. Babies will often respond to their name, so make sure you use it in your talking with them. They often enjoy toys which make gentle sounds like rattles or soft music. When you sing with your baby and do actions to the song, you’ll notice that your baby may attempt to do an action when they recognise the song eg moving hands when you sing ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’. Babies brains are also starting to recognise often repeated words.
At 5 ½ – 8 months they repeat simple sounds like ‘ba-ba’ or ‘da-da’ At this stage ‘da-da’ doesn’t mean Dad, it is a sound that they have learnt to say, and ‘b’ and ‘d’ are often the first sounds they are able to master. They are starting to make associations with the words you often say eg bottle, bed, book. Interestingly too, babies are able to store the sounds of different languages in their brain. This is particularly useful when there are two languages being spoken in the home. Their brains are able to accept that each item you pick up has 2 names eg ‘bed’ or ‘seng’ (in Danish).
By 8 -14 months they can point to objects you name and can say simple words eg ‘bo’ for bottle. Their speech isn’t clear, but becomes consistent. They may be able to make animal sounds on request, or when they see a picture of the animal in a book. Their receptive language has increased dramatically and when you ask: ‘Where’s the ball?’ they understand and will look around for it.
At all times it is your connection with them which is important – your voice, it’s tone and volume. Your voice provides them with so much information. Be aware that they don’t get this same level of engagement with a TV or iPad app, which is one of the reasons why they aren’t recommended for children under two years of age. You are the most important one for their development!
If you notice your baby or toddler isn’t responding to sounds, or isn’t babbling, have their hearing checked. It maybe as a result of an short term infection, but needs to be checked by your doctor.
Happy talking with your child!