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Your Brilliant Baby in Week 51: Emerging First Words

Baby’s Brain in Week 51

It’s time to start listening for your baby’s first words! These will likely be:

  • mama
  • dada
  • juice
  • ball
  • doggie
  • gone
  • there
  • uh-oh
  • more
  • what’s that

Amazingly, regardless of the language a baby is learning—whether English, French, or Korean—children speak these same 10 words first (but, of course, in their own language). Why these? Each word represents either important animate and inanimate objects in a child’s environment (“doggie” and “juice”) or issues which they’re trying to resolve, such as disappearance (“gone”) and cause and effect (“there” and “uh-oh”).

What the Research Shows

The advent of videotape in the 1970s meant researchers could easily watch and record what one-year-olds say. Here’s what they discovered matters to kids when choosing first words:

Relevance and interest. Because of the importance of parents, it’s easy to see why “mama” and “dada” are among a child’s first words. “Juice” (or their most consumed beverage other than milk or formula) makes the list not only because children drink it frequently but also because they’re highly interested in how liquids pour and spill. “Ball” is common because of how children can roll a ball in a particular trajectory (remember, babies are thrilled by understanding the paths objects make). “Doggie,” or another frequently seen animal, is one of Baby’s first words because it’s animate but so different from humans.

Object permanence. One-year-olds are still working to understand that objects continue to exist even when out of sight (week 26’s studies confirmed this), so they apply the word “gone” to this phenomenon. “Gone” doesn’t mean it’s disappeared forever; it’s just out of sight, as when a napkin covers up a carrot slice.

Causality. Children this age are highly interested in cause and effect, so when they successfully stack a few blocks, the word they use to describe their effort is “there.” When the stack of blocks topples, they narrate the event by saying, “uh-oh!”

Increasing quantities. What child isn’t excited by seeing you pour more milk in her cup, put more macaroni and cheese on her plate, or scoop more peaches in her bowl? Because they’re interested in increasing quantities, children quickly learn the word “more.”

Identification. Kids start pointing around this age, and “What’sat?” is a natural accompaniment as they thrust their index fingers at an object.

Week 51 Brain Booster

Want to get your child talking? You needn’t do anything more than offer a play-by-play account of everyday occurrences—and using body language and squeals, Baby will surely let you know which she’s most interested in. A simple “Uh-oh, the juice spilled on the floor” or “Look at the ball rolling across the carpet” will do.

Describe your actions and your baby’s behavior, talk about objects and events, and leave the rest up to your child—her language use will soon explode!

Your Week 51 Toolbox

Related skills and topics this week include …

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