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Read my lips: Babies learn to speak by watching

Watching your little one learn to speak is fascinating, and you cherish these initial first conversations with your offspring. You also want reassurance that your child is achieving important speech milestones.

An interesting study was publicized this week that looks at how babies learn to talk and what you can do to help their speech development.

The study, which appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, indicates that babies learn to make sounds by imitating mouth movements they see in adults, or lip reading, if you will.

According to the researchers, babies begin moving their gaze from their caregivers’ eyes to the face, particularly the mouth, at about 6 months of age.

Kathleen Considine, manager for speech pathology at Akron Children’s Hospital, has 30-plus years of experience working with infants and children with speech delays and articulation problems. She agrees that babies intently study the face to learn how to speak.

So what can you do to enhance this time for your children and make sure things are on track? More face-to-face interaction, and less screen time, is the best way to stimulate your little talker.

“Face-to-face time doesn’t have to be a special time that you set aside to work on speech,” Considine said. “You can do this while bathing the baby or changing diapers. Just put your face right in front of their face while you’re talking to them. The important thing is that your baby is making a connection between what she’s hearing you say and your face.”

Considine says it doesn’t have to be baby talk, such as “goo goo ga ga.” Rather, she encourages parents to use simple sentences they probably already utter in baby’s presence, such as “mama loves you.”

Don’t be surprised when baby starts talking back. That’s the fun part.

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