Talking Begins with Imitation
Children begin imitating very early in their development. Actually, their imitation begins much earlier than you may think! Very young children imitate what they see adults doing or saying around them – actions, facial expressions, games, and even speech sounds.
Typically, imitation happens naturally without direct teaching of the skill. In fact, most people teach babies and toddlers through imitation without even knowing it. For example, when a baby is young he or she looks at the face of his/her parents and copies the parent’s facial expressions, including smiling, a surprise face, and vocalizations. Babies will vocalize vowels first during infancy then consonants as they get older. As the parent repeats the sounds that the baby makes (ooooo….ahhh), the baby reacts by becoming excited then naturally producing more sounds to get the parent’s reaction and attention again and again. This is the beginning phase of communication and occurs in the first few months of life (zero to six months).
During the next 6 months, the normally developing infant will begin to copy the adults’ movements with objects, such as stacking blocks or pushing buttons on toys to make noise. The child begins to imitate actions in simple interaction games such as Patty Cake and Peek-a-boo. The child copies the actions, movements, and sounds of his or her parents, siblings, and friends showing imitation and intentional communication.
Many people think that imitation begins when the child repeats spoken words. However, this is not the case. However, as discussed above, imitation begins far before that. Imitation of actions and movements are the prerequisite for imitating words and labels for objects. As the infant copies actions, they are learning gestures such as pointing to get an object they want or reaching up to be lifted into an adult’s arms.
From the imitation of actions, infants learn how to move their mouths and make sounds through activities such as the following:
• Copycat – parent imitates what child does with sounds or facial movements, child does it again and parent copies again, then child copies parent
• Pretend coughs or sneezes
• Blowing ‘raspberries’ with lips and tongue
• Animals sounds such as moo, meow, ruff or oink
It is important to remember that children must have the foundation skills of imitation before they can produce and repeat words. Children absorb the most through play at their early stages of development. Thus, drill practice prior to the mastering of imitation is not the most effective strategy.
For resources about fun activities with your infant, please visit http://teachmetotalk.com/.
Written by Sidney Hammer, CCC-SLP, Speech Language Pathologist, Delaware Speech and Hearing Center