If this is your first baby, you might not be used to “talking” with a baby that doesn’t talk back, so this section is meant to give you a few “academic” methods to carrying on with them. There are three main ways to chat it up with a baby whom doesn’t talk back. They are “self talk”, “stretch talking” or “expansion talking” and “parallel talking.” Each one is aimed at exposing your baby to dialogue helping them to pick up language faster.
Research has shown that babies who are talked to more tend to develop communication more quickly than those who are not. This partially explains why signing babies tend to speak sooner and have more advanced vocabularies than non-signing babies. Signing parents just talk to their babies more than non signing parents! It doesn’t describe the entire story of why signing babies get the edge, but it’s certainly an important component.
“Self talk” is a way to “converse” with your preverbal baby by describing what you are doing as you do it. Your baby doesn’t participate in the conversation; they simply passively listen to you. Self talk is a form of self narration and will help baby learn words, sentences and structure. An example of self talk goes like this “Baby, Mom is washing the dishes right now, I’m soaking them in water, then scrubbing them with a brush. Can you see what Mom is doing?” A signing parent might also add in signs for WASH and WATER and whatever other signs they are currently working on.
Above: Water: In the ASL sign fort the “W” hand with index, middle and ring finger repeatedly extends from the chin outward.
“Stretch talking” or “expansion talking” involves adding to what your baby is saying or signing and expanding on it. Naturally you require a signing or babbling baby for this type of conversation. For example, if you baby signs EAT you might start asking them about what sorts of food they wish to eat. If your baby notices a BIRD and signs this to you, you might say “Oh, you see a bird, did you know that BIRDS can fly high up in the sky?” Stretch talking allows you baby to “start conversations” about things they find interesting. This gives them some control over what topics are discussed. Once your baby knows more signs, they will be able to contribute to the house dynamic. Finally, “parallel talk” is a conversation strategy which involves describing what you see in your environment. You might say “Hey little guy, I see that you are playing with a doll, does your doll ever have pretty hair” and so forth.
These types of conversations aren’t meant to be exclusive or limiting. They are just meant to encourage you to talk with your baby as much as possible. Don’t ever think that because your baby isn’t talking or signing back that they aren’t following along with every word you are saying, enjoying it, and benefiting from it. Finding reasons to talk to your baby is a very important part in helping your baby develop language.