3 Ways To Tell If Your Baby Understands What You Say

Bridget Hillsberg
February 28, 2020

How do you know if your baby is understanding language before he can answer you verbally?

Receptive language is the ability to understand information. It is the act of comprehending language. In both of our online courses, we talk about the importance of building your child’s understanding of language. Why? Because once language is understood receptively, only then can it be expressed verbally. In Speech Sisters terms, you need to understand and link meaning to a word before you start saying that word. So, you may be wondering, how can I help my baby start understanding language? One way is to repeat the same words throughout your daily routines. When you repeat words over and over again your child will begin to remember and understand the meaning of that word. When you repeat...they will remember!

Here are 3 ways to determine if your baby or toddler is understanding and comprehending language before they can actually talk.

  1. EYE GAZE: If you name an object or person, does your baby look in the correct direction of that object? By 12 months old, your baby should look in the direction of some familiar objects and people when named. To help your baby master this skill, you should simultaneously name and display the object or person. This helps bring meaning and association to the word. Then, do this with the same object again and again. 
  2. FOLLOW A COMMAND: If you give a basic command, (e.g. "Give the baby a kiss." or "Touch your head.") does your toddler follow the direction correctly? By 12 months, your baby should follow very simple commands (with a model or gesture) like “Clap your hands” or “Wave bye-bye”. By 18 months, your toddler should be following one-step commands (without you gesturing) such as, “Sit down” or “Go get the ball.” You can help your toddler follow basic commands by acting them out. If you give your toddler a command such as,  “Go get the ball,” you should grab their hand and immediately go get the ball with them. When you model this several times, your toddler will understand that direction in context and it will set him up to carry out this direction independently. 
  3. POINTING: If you ask a question ("Where is the ball?") OR name an object/person ("I see Daddy."), will your baby point or reach toward the correct item/person? Pointing to communicate is typically mastered between 12-18 months. To help your toddler reach this milestone, you should implement model pointing! As you verbally label objects or people, point to them to show your baby this method of communicating. We love pointing to the moon in the book Goodnight Moon, and then walking outside and pointing up to the moon. You may be pointing solo for a while, but soon your little one will reach to the sky with you!

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!

Bridget Hillsberg
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