The secret to teaching your baby to understand words

Mum and baby playing to learn words

You are playing with your baby every day. On some days playing is fun. But sometimes it can feel a bit repetitive and one-sided.

If only your baby could talk.

Did you know there is a lot you can do to put your baby on the right path to talking early?

Let me tell you about an amazing trick that you can use to help your baby learn words faster. It isn’t an abracadabra kind of trick, but something that scientists have discovered. It is based on the different brain structures in babies. And it results in babies learning language super-fast.

Once you understand how your baby’s brain performs this little miracle, you may find interactions with your baby more fun. And it will benefit your baby’s brain development.



The touch-sound connection: what it is and how it works

Your own adult brain is highly organised.

It may not feel like it at the moment if you are looking after a small baby. But your brain regions are all neatly organised.  

For your senses, having an organised brain means they are clearly divided into: hearing, sight, touch, smell and taste.

The organised adult brain

Babies’ brains on the other hand are different.

The brain regions responsible for each sense are located much closer together in babies' than in adult brains. On top of that, your baby’s brain has many brain cells, as many as you. But connections between these brain cells have not yet formed. At least not many.

Because parts of the brain are near each other, when one part gets stimulated, neighbouring regions also get activated. This results in senses overlapping.

This overlap of senses doesn’t usually happen in adults. After babyhood we grow out of it.  Although in rare cases it can persist into adulthood. The painter Kandinsky is reported to have heard orchestras play in his head when he was creating his paintings. His sensory overlap was between sight and hearing.

The sensory overlap in your baby's brain, which helps your baby to learn words faster, is between hearing and touch. When your baby hears a word the part of the brain responsible for hearing lights up. And the neighbouring part of the brain responsible for touch also gets some of the stimulation.

It sounds crazy, but this is what happens in your baby’s brain when senses intermingle. You tickle your baby’s foot and he hears the word “foot”. Or, the other alternative, your baby hears the word “foot” and his foot starts tingling.  

Isn’t that amazing?



How to make use of intermingled senses to teach words

Now that you are aware of this bizarre activity going on in your baby’s brain, how can you make use of it?

You could talk to your baby about his body parts for example when you change his nappy.

It is important to make sure that you touch your baby’s body part whilst you say the word in order for your baby to make the connection. The trick does not work if you touch your own nose and say “nose”. You baby has to actually feel it. So, the next time when you play with your baby’s foot, say “ooooh, tickly foot”. Or take his hands into yours and say “hands, hands, hands, we clap hands” a few times.

In a short time, your baby will be able to make the connection between words she hears and their meaning.  When your baby is able to recognise the spoken word, you may recognise it because he will be looking at the object. It could be a hand or a foot.

Baby looking at hand


What are the benefits to learning words early?

Of course, childhood is not a race.

At Cosyplay we believe it is best to that make the most of every developmental stage, rather than racing to the next one. Patience is key in allowing your baby to reach his full potential.

So making use of your baby’s unusual brain ability is just a bit of fun for both of you.  Saying that, the benefits of learning to talk early can be immense.

Being able to speak well before your child starts school is the best predictor of how well children perform when at school.

It is important that parents take the time to speak to their babies. Babies from poor backgrounds hear fewer words than children from more affluent backgrounds. Some researchers believe that the difference in the number of words is huge. By 3 years of age, there is a 30 million word gap between children from rich and poor families.

It looks like the quality of interaction during babyhood has long-lasting consequences.

This is because early experiences in babies affect the organisation of brain cells into a structured brain.

Talking to your baby whilst your baby is unable to reply might be boring for you. But rest assured your efforts are never wasted. Your baby will benefit.

Mum and baby playing

You may also like: How babies learn to talk and ways to help

and How to encourage independent play in babies



December 02, 2015

Hi Karen,
sorry I only just saw your comment.

I don’t know if I have much to offer on that front, because I don’t know what the underlying causes are for your foster child’s speech and language delay. Saying that, I found this resource particularly useful for my own daughter when she was struggling with some sounds.
Hope it helps. x

Karen Else
Karen Else

November 20, 2015

I foster a child who at 12 has the language and understanding is that of a much younger child due to both nature and nurture.Do you know of any research etc that has been done about older children and how we can stimulate their language and understanding .

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