Infants Develop Language Naturally

First in a series of nine, this NebGuide discusses the importance of speaking to and engaging infants in communication.

Adapted by
Janet S. Hanna, Kayla M. Hinrichs and Carla J. Mahar, Extension Educators
John D. DeFrain and Tonia R. Durden, Family Life Specialists

StoryQUEST’s Vision: High-quality early relationships and experiences throughout their daily routines provide each infant and toddler with the tools and skills to build a strong foundation for future school readiness. Families, caregivers, and communities as a whole collaborate to enable all children to become highly competent in language and literacy. This series was developed as part of a national research project — StoryQUEST — through the California Institute on Human Services, Sonoma State University.

Did you know?

Communicating With Children

When talking with a child:

Language and Communication Development

Oral language is key to later literacy development. Infants focus on and develop language mostly because they want to communicate.



Young Children


Engaging in Conversation

Frequent one-to-one early conversations, maintaining eye contact, and repeating back those gurgles and coos help the infant understand the nature of language and conversation. Vocalization in early months sets the stage for early language and literacy skills.

When adults engage babies in playful conversation by responding back when the baby makes a coo or sound, the adult is helping lay the foundation for turn-taking in later conversations and is providing the beginning stages of listening and responding for later literacy development.

Making up stories about daily events, singing songs about the people and places a baby knows, and describing what is happening during daily routines give a basis for early language and literacy development.

Telling the same stories and singing the same songs over and over may feel boring to you, but for a small child, learning happens with repetition. Speaking in warm, expressive voices and providing opportunities for a baby to hear different sounds, pitch, and tonal characteristics of language are important. The more language they hear, the more those parts of the brain will grow and develop.

Tips for Effective Communication With Your Baby

Communication and Language in Play

Play involves language with adults that provides a foundation for later literacy. Play activities can support the development of emergent literacy skills.

Children at play:

Families and caregivers:



The authors would like to acknowledge the contributions of the 2003-2004 StoryQUEST – Central Nebraska Community Services team.


Berk, L.E. (1994). “Why Children Talk to Themselves.” Scientific American (November); 78-83.

Trawick-Smith, J. (2005) Early Childhood Development: A Multicultural Perspective (2nd Edition). New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

This publication has been peer reviewed.

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Index: Families
Issued January 2010

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