Parenting: newborns to toddlers

Rookie Mum: baby babbling

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 April, 2015, 1:03pm

My little boy, Tom, pulls at my leg and points excitedly at the sky, babbling frantically. "Ma dada baba duka duka duka!" he says. "Duka duka ba ba ba ba!" I look at him and ask, "What is it?"

"Ba baba duka ka ka kaaa!" he says, barely able to contain his excitement. I gaze upwards in an attempt to decipher what this is all about. Then I spot it. There's a helicopter flying overhead. He loves helicopters.

"Yes, Tom. A helicopter!" I say. I repeat it for good measure: "Good boy! Helicopter."

These exchanges are sometimes frustrating. Tom tries to tell me something, but the problem is we speak different languages - me English, him baby-babble. I feel bad when I don't know what he is saying, and he gets frustrated when I don't react the way he wants me to.

I am getting increasingly impatient for my toddler to talk.

He can say "oof oof" for dog, "car" and "bird". He can also say "Peppa", his favourite pink cartoon pig.

Nic Parker, a speech and language therapist from True Communication in Sai Kung, says that at one year old, we can expect toddlers to respond to a single-word instruction accompanied by a gesture. For example, "stop" accompanied by a change in tone and hand up gesture. They may also produce their first words, such as "mama", "dada", or "woof woof". A child's first word is usually something that is very important to them.

Tom cannot say "mummy" or "daddy" yet. It's good to know that we're somewhere in a priority list below a cartoon pig, cars, dogs and birds. When might I expect him to say the magic word "mummy"?

"Mummy and daddy usually appear within the first words a child says," Parker says. "But this is not always the case, and there is nothing wrong with a later acquisition of these words. Hang in there - they will appear ... eventually."

So we're hanging in there, waiting in line behind the pink pig.

Language development is complicated and babies progress at different rates.

I want to know what milestones to expect over the next year. "Some milestones would include using language intentionally," says Parker. "For example, to make a request or comment about a toy, or greet another person. There's also babbling and making nonsense words with different sounds, following simple instructions of one or two parts (for example, "put your shoes on"), and developing a vocabulary of different topic words like body parts, everyday objects, or clothes."

If I tell Tom to give an object to daddy, he will obediently do so. If I tell him to get his shoes, he'll fetch them. So we're on track.

I wonder if there's anything I can do to help Tom develop his language skills.

"Take time to play with your child in a game of their choosing," says Parker. "Keep your sentences short and provide lots of examples of language appropriate to the game."

Is there any truth in the notion that girls talk earlier, whereas boys walk earlier? "There's no significant difference between the language acquisition of boys and girls. There is a big range of 'normal', which can make it appear as if there are differences. But this has not been found to be the case," says Parker.

Tom's babbling may have meanings I am unaware of, and "babbling is important in developing strong articulation and speech processing skills."

With that I turn to my boy.

"Daka mum dab a ba ba," he says, in what strikes me as a very articulate way.

"Quite so, Tom," I reply.