Learning to talk

Hearing babies and children can learn to talk through listening and talking. They don’t know they are doing it and it is always FUN! Deaf children are no different.

All babies and children are pre-programmed to listen and talk. Deaf babies and children are pre-programmed to listen and talk.

With early identification and the technology we have today deaf children are talking just like hearing children

How do they do it?

  • By wearing well set up hearing aids and cochlear implants
  • Being responded to and listened to
  • By actively enjoying meaningful interaction through listening and talking


Babies and children delight in hearing you talk to them


  • They enjoy interacting and using their voices, understanding you and being understood.
  • They need lots of opportunities to listen and play with you and this is how they make sense of the world around them.
  • They respond when anyone talks to them.   They babble and make noises to themselves.
  • Show babies that you are enjoying interacting with them, this will encourage them to take a turn.
  • Deaf babies with hearing aids and cochlear implants will do this too.


Making sense of sounds


Children who can hear gradually learn to make sense of the different sounds they hear. They pick out the sound of voices and learn to know that they are different from the sound of the washing machine or the vacuum cleaner.

With the right hearing aids, deaf children can do this too. Language has meaning when you are interacting, playing and doing in the here and now. If it happens regularly, it becomes predictable and has more meaning.

  • Daily routines of changing, washing and eating provide opportunities for repetitious language
  • Baby action rhymes and songs help encourage predictability of what is coming up.
  • Alerting the child to the meaning of environmental sounds helps them make sense of the world around e.g. sounds of Daddy coming home, telephone ringing, TV theme tunes, noise making toys, running the bath etc.


Talking together


Babies ‘talk’ to their families.

The first ‘talk’ babies hear when we interact with them naturally, tends to be rhythmical and highly exaggerated.

We emphasise the intonation and the flow of our words, sounding more ‘musical’ than we do normally. This is very helpful to all babies; it attracts their attention and the ‘music’ of the words makes the communication more enjoyable for both baby and adult. Soon baby joins in with coos and gurgles.

These are the baby’s first ‘word-like’ responses.

It is important to talk to deaf babies in the same way. Help them to take an active part right from the start, valuing any response they make. This is how we all talk to each other – a conversation is people taking turns.


Copying the sounds


All children learn to talk by copying the voices that they hear.

Their voices start to go up and down as adults’ do and, although there are no words as such, it is quite clearly an effort to communicate.

Gradually the words come, and phrases and sentences follow as the babies and toddlers get better and better at listening to what they are saying themselves and comparing it with what they hear from others.

Pause to give a deaf child the chance to have a say. If you talk too much they won’t get the chance.

The first words may not be very clear. This doesn’t matter.

As they interact more and their attempts are valued and extended their words will become clearer.

Follow the child’s interest, in a clear context, because if they are involved and enjoying themselves the language will be meaningful.


How does ‘talking’ start?


Children listen to the world for many months before they say their first words.

Most of this listening takes place in an interactive way between adults and babies/children, with the adult talking about and to the child and what is happening at the time.

The adult will pause allowing the child to offer a response in some way. Always the adult values any response from the baby/child, helping the baby/child to listen and understand the meaning of the words.

It takes baby/child time to make sense out of all the sounds around them. A deaf baby/child will also need listening time, in the same way as a hearing child does.

Hearing children have access to speech and language throughout the day and can interact at a distance. The limitations of the hearing aid microphones and constraints of hearing aid wearing time can impact on the amount of language a deaf baby/child will access.

Many parents of deaf babies/children have learn to compensate by making the most of the opportunities that are available in close day to day interactions and routines. This works well as situations have meaning, are frequent, repetitive and predictable and they are choosing times when baby/child is going to be most responsive. Such situations might be bath time, mealtimes, changing and getting ready to go out. Favourite rhymes songs and tickle games, soon also become part of the routine.

Trying to ‘teach’ your child to speak is likely affect the quality and spontaneity of language. Always encourage natural interaction and communication especially when the baby/child initiates the interaction first.


Don’t ….


  • Exaggerate mouth movements or slow down when you talk to your child. This will make it distort the natural rhythm of speech and they may copy or mimic the exaggerations.
  • Worry if there are misunderstandings. Remember young children with normal hearing do not understand everything that is said to them and neither do we understand everything they say. Return to a joint context where the meaning is clear and you both understand.
  • Try to force words or repeat words. All children, will talk when they are ready and first attempts at words may not be clear.


Do ….


  • Help your child to enjoy language and sound; play games with noises, sing nursery rhymes, use everyday activities to draw attention to sounds.
  • Listen and respond with meaningful language to your child’s initiations , whether they includes words or non verbal responses.
  • Talk using phrases and intonated speech.
  • Show an interest in what your baby or child enjoys and laugh and smile with them.