The Surprising Way Your Baby Will Learn Her First Words

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Have you ever wondered how exactly your baby will learn how to talk? Your baby's journey to learning his or her first's words is quite an interesting one and a study has revealed some information about how babies' brains learn to develop the skills to talk.

Although we can't completely predict what a baby's first words will be, a study says that it's likely that when it comes to babies' first words, what you see is what you get.

In other words, what your baby sees a lot of on an every day basis is helping lay the groundwork in her brain for language.

What the Study Means

It might seem a little bit like common sense, but the researchers found that babies learn words from what they see and what they hear about those objects. For example, a baby is more likely to learn a word about an object that they 1) see frequently throughout the day and 2) a caregiver describes or talks about.

Previously, researchers kind of assumed babies worked like mini adults, seeing the same things that we see during the day, but this study found that how babies see actually changes quite drastically as they grow. A three-month-old baby, for example will see the world a lot differently than a one-year-old, and that different viewpoint will help shape how their brain learns to talk. Cool, right?

How You Can Help Your Baby Learn Words

To help your little one learn to develop language skills early on in life, it's most helpful to clearly identify objects to your baby both visually and in words.

So if you would like your baby to learn how to say the word "ball," for example, you would want to make sure the ball is in front of your baby where he or she can see it and then point out, "This is a ball."

The baby's brain learns best by having both the visual and hearing parts of the brain stimulated at the same time, so the brain learns to connect the image with a word.

Cool, right? Luckily for you as a parent, this is a pretty easy task to accomplish, as long as you don't mind talking to yourself for a while until your baby gets the hang of this whole language business. So don't worry about feeling silly—just focus on pointing out objects or people that your baby sees every day and helping her learn to connect that object by saying the world out loud. And if you get too busy, the study says that it's actually more helpful just to have the object around so that the baby can see it, so don't stress about how much you are saying to your baby. If it's around, he or she will learn the name for it!

Because the study found that seeing objects frequently helps babies learn how to talk, it also means that it's helpful for your baby to remain in as consistent an environment as possible. For example, if your baby has a rather unpredictable and unstable environment without a schedule or is going to a new place every day, she might process those visual clues a little more slowly than a baby who has a consistent, reliable environment around him.

Should You Be Concerned If Your Baby Is Not Talking? 

Babies all learn at different rates and research like this is brand-new, but it may point to findings later down the road that could help your baby learn more effective language skills if he or she has trouble learning.

For now, though, the researchers assure us that there's no reason to change everything about how we teach babies and make sure our babies are only looking at the same things every day. Instead, we should keep doing what we've always been doing—exposing our babies to new things, laughing and playing with them, and talking to them throughout the day. Babies are always learning and apparently, as parents, so are we.


Elizabeth M. Clerkin, Elizabeth Hart, James M. Rehg, Chen Yu, Linda B. Smith. (2016, November 21). Real-world visual statistics and infants' first-learned object names. Retrieved from