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Pointing as a precursor of language

baby pointing

Your baby learns about language well before they speak; they might even have a head start because they listened while being in your womb. During their first year, the linguistic area will development a lot. You will see them communicate through gestures, coo, and even laugh.

Nonverbal communication is very important, because your little one doesn’t have the ability to communicate their wants and needs through words yet. That’s where pointing enters the scene. It is one of the earliest ways in which babies communicate before being able to put their intentions into words. This action can begin when children are between 9 and 18 months old.

Pointing might seem simple, but it’s not. Recent studies have been able to propose some interesting theories about pointing in toddlers. One study, carried out in Germany, analyzed 12-month-olds when pointing. Results showed that when the adult shared attention and interest, infants pointed more frequently than when the adult didn’t pay attention.

This tells us that your little one can point to share their thoughts with someone else, and even try to influence them with this simple gesture. They want to share their world with others. Ponting builds a strong prelinguistic foundation and can be also interpreted as a skill that carries a social intentionality.


Your little one can point with different objectives in mind. They can refer to events in the past or the future, “talk” about things that are no longer there, deduce when you want to communicate something by pointing, and, most of all, share their experiences. There are three kinds of pointing, depending on the intention.

  • Declarative: Pointing at a desired object. This happens when your child points to show something to someone else.
  • Imperative: This is when your little one points at something they want with the expectation that you will get it for them.
  • Shared attention: Their ability to point to something will draw your attention to it. This is also one of the earliest signs of social interaction.

Pointing has different intentions, so your little one will use this resource a lot during this stage. To help them develop pointing, model the behavior yourself. When talking about an object point at it. You will see how they start to spontaneously do it themselves. You can also encourage them by reacting to their pointing; ask questions, laugh, or get them the objects they point at.

Pointing is your little one’s first way of sharing with you. You are the most significant adult with whom they will interact and communicate. The way in which you engage with them will support their language development during these very important early years. That’s why, pointing is a milestone that will set the way to language development.

Studies on pointing:
Twelve-month-old’s point to share attention and interest
A new look at infant pointing

More on non-verbal communication:
Learning how to communicate: non-verbal cues
Impact of gestures in language development

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