One of the greatest joys for any parent is hearing his/her infant child speak for the first time. As Speech Language Pathologists, one of the medical history questions we always ask a parent is, “At what age did your child speak his/her first word?” Without fail the majority of parents can give a relatively precise account of the age at which their child first spoke, as well as the first word he/she said.

Many parents waiting to hear their child speak for the first time wonder when their child will speak. Some may even wonder if their child will ever speak. Generally most typically developing children will speak their first words between 12 and 18 months of age (Bowen, 2013). However, parents may wonder, “Is their something I can do to help my child learn to speak faster?”

There is research suggesting prior to the age of three, children demonstrate right hemisphere brain dominance (Chiron, et al. 1997). This is significant because the right hemisphere of the brain is commonly associated with the interpretation of melody, music, and rhythm while the left hemisphere of the brain is associated with language interpretation and use (Sandiford et al., 2012). If children prior to three demonstrate right hemispherical brain dominance then it would stand to reason that melody and rhythm can be incorporated not only to teach new concepts to children but also to teach new words.

Taking this into account, one key method parents can use to teach children new words faster is to incorporate melody and rhythm when naming common objects such as apple or ball. For musical parents this may seem a no-brainer and require very little additional assistance, but for those who may not feel as self-sufficient in the realm of music, an app for the iPad entitled Melodic Based Communication Therapy Level 1 can be purchased at the apple store (see link below).

The app, developed by a speech language pathologist, allows parents to show infants as young as 9 months a picture of a common object while playing a research based melody simultaneously. For children this young, parents may also want to link actual objects to the melody as infants may be unable to understand the association between a picture of an apple and an actual apple. For instance an apple may be placed in the child’s hands while the melody plays.

The use of melody and rhythm to help children learn is not a new concept. Popular television shows such as Sesame Street, Barnie, and even Mr. Rogers have implemented melodies to teach key concepts to children in the past. Melodic Based Communication Therapy (M.B.C.T.) simply offers parents another venue through which first words can be taught while allowing the parent to be present to view one of the greatest joys of parenthood, hearing the voice of one’s child in spoken word for the very first time.

Bowen, C. (2013). Typical Speech Language Acquisition in Infants and Young Children.

Chiron, C., Jambaque, I., Nabbout, R., Lounes, R., Syrota, A., Dulac, O. (1997). The right brain hemisphere is dominant in human infants. Brain, 120, 1057-1065.

Sandiford, G., Mainess, K., Daher, N. (2012). A pilot study on the efficacy of melodic based communication therapy for eliciting speech in nonverbal children with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders (Epub ahead of print).

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Givona A Sandiford holds a Ph.D. from Loma Linda University’s Rehabilitation Sciences Doctoral Program. She holds a M.S. in Speech Language Pathology from Loma Linda University and a Clinical Certificate of Competency (CCC) from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). She currently resides in Southern California, USA where she works in the public school system as well as in a private practice setting. She developed Melodic Based Communication Therapy (M.B.C.T.) primarily to assist nonverbal children with autism learn to speak, only realizing its potential benefits for the typically developing population after further reviewing the literature and trying the melodies with her typically developing infant niece and nephew.