Why You Should Teach Functional Language to Babies

Jul 22, 2022 | Language, Speech Tips

Why You Should Teach Functional Language to Babies

We all want our children to grow up to be intelligent, well-adjusted adults, and as parents, we’re eager to give them a good head start, right? We talk a lot about functional language for babies, what what does that look like?

Let’s take a simple quiz. Answer the following question by selecting the correct answer:

The first words your little one should learn are:

  1. Colors
  2. Numbers
  3. ABCs
  4. None of the above

If you chose #4, you’re correct! Rather than focusing on academic concepts, the first words we should teach our babies are words that help them to express their wants or needs. These are known as FUNCTIONAL WORDS. Functional words magically bring a response, which results in positive feelings about communication. These positive feelings will encourage your little one to communicate more and more! 

Let’s look at some examples of functional language. Following are typical situations that might occur during the day with your toddler:

  • Your toddler finishes breakfast and wants to get out of his highchair. What might he do? If he’s not talking yet, he might gesture by holding up his arms or sign “all done.”
  • Your toddler is playing, but he can’t open a container that has his favorite toy in it. What might he do? He might gesture or sign, or if he’s talking, he might say, “Help!”
  • Your toddler is thirsty, but his water cup is on the counter, out of reach. What might he do? Yep, you’re right! He might gesture or sign, or if he is talking, he might say, “Wawa!” (aka water).

Functional language may include signing, gesturing, and using real words to express wants and needs.

Again, using words to express babies’ needs is MOST IMPORTANT. Now you can see why teaching functional language to your little ones FIRST is the best way give him a great head start in learning to communicate. Academic learning is important too, but that comes later!

We love this description of Functional Language by TopTots

“You want to start with teaching words that will give your child power in their environment. Words that will help them make an impact on their world and feel good about accomplishing something, while building relationships with their family along with self esteem and independence. This is called “Functional Language” because it performs a purpose … .” 

So What Are Functional Words and How Do I Teach Them?

As you speak, you are modeling language for your child. Kids love to imitate! If you calmly say “Cup?” as he’s reaching for it, he will eventually learn to say the word rather than simply pointing to it. Give him a little time to repeat the word before giving him his cup. This, of course, takes time, but before you know it, your little one will be using these words independently.

You’ll be surprised just how easy it is to teach FUNCTIONAL LANGUAGE with a few essential guidelines. That is why we created 45 Functional Focus Words from our Talk on Track online course. This course will help you to build your child’s vocabulary with the most important words first. Sign up today and get started!

To learn simple and effective strategies to help get your little one talking, check out our Talk on Track (newborn-14 months) and Time to Talk: Toddler Course (15-36 months). We’d love to equip you to experience the joy of your little one talking to you!

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Hi! We're Brooke & Bridget.

We know what you want most is for your child to talk. With more than 20 years of combined experience, we’ve diagnosed and treated hundreds of children with a variety of communication disorders and delays... if your child is having trouble communicating, we can absolutely help. 

We love everything about our work, but we're most excited about guiding parents with practical tips to integrate speech and language techniques into their everyday routines. We'd be honored to partner with you, too!

(And yes, we really are sisters!)

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