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Talk to your baby

Your baby can understand speech long before he learns to talk. Even when he's tiny, you'll see that he enjoys your voice, listens to you and responds by cooing. By the end of his first year he'll be ready for his very first words.

You can help him get a head start in language skills.

Start by communicating with your baby whenever you can. This doesn't have to be by talking. Look at his face, smile and sing to him as well.

By the time he's three months old, he'll be making eye-contact with you and smiling at you.

Let your voice be the one he hears most, not voices from the television. Spend time with him and let the housework wait. Play baby games with him and keep talking and singing.

By the time he's a year old, you'll notice that he listens to sounds around, that he turns when noises are made behind his back, that he is making repetitive nonsense sounds, such as 'ba-ba-ba', and that he looks at familiar objects, such as the family pet, when you name them. He may even be saying a word or two, but this is less important than showing an interest in sounds and in what you say to him.

Here are some things to do with your baby to give him a good start.

Peep-bo
Hide your face from your baby, then pop your head out and say 'peep-bo'. He'll laugh and giggle at this, and it teaches him to look and listen. The reason he finds it so funny is that he hasn't yet learned that things are still there even if he can't see them. Every time you pop your head out it's a total surprise to your baby. You'll get tired of the game long before he does.

What's that?
When there are noises around the house, draw your baby's attention to them by saying, 'What's that?' and taking him to see what is making the noise. Whether it's the cat miaowing or his Daddy opening the front door, your baby will soon associate the sound with what's happening. 'What's that?' is often one of the first things a baby will say.

Nursery rhymes
Sing to your baby as you bath him, or change his nappy. If you've forgotten the nursery rhymes you used to know, buy or borrow a book or tape and relearn them. In the meantime, sing any song you like to your baby.

Turning on the tape recorder to let him listen on his own is nowhere near as good for his future language skills as singing yourself. Remember that singing is a form of communication. You want your child to communicate with you, not with a piece of machinery.

However, by all means use CDs to sooth your child at certain times. They are worth their weight in gold on long car journeys.

Noisy rattles
Find two or three different rattles or soft squeaky toys. Shake or squeak the loudest of these on one side of your baby, where he can't see it. Watch him turn his head towards the sound. Shake the rattle from a different direction, then from another.

Take your time and give your baby a chance to enjoy the sound and to turn and see the rattle. If he reaches for the rattle, let him have it and leave him to play with it himself.

Use another of the noise makers, perhaps one that makes a quieter sound, and squeak that in a place where your baby cannot see it.

Whisper his name, or rattle a piece of paper. You'll be surprised by the quiet sounds he can hear and enjoy.

Babbling
Babbling is the repetition of speech sounds over and over again. It happens when your baby's around six months old, and by babbling he practises all the speech sounds he'll need when he talks. It is a fun activity, where he enjoys the noise and feel of sounds.

Choose a time when you and your baby are looking at each other. This could be as you finish changing his nappy, or giving him his feed, or perhaps as he sits in his bouncing cradle.

Make repetitive sounds - 'Ba-ba-ba' or 'ch-ch-ch' and see if he responds. If he makes sounds of his own, babble them back to him. Don't worry that there are no real words attached to the sounds, but simply let yourself and your baby have fun.

Above all, keep talking.