Benefits of “Baby Talk”: Infant Language Stimulation

When a new baby is around a group of adults, chances are that you will hear many people launch into an animated, high-pitched voice and make silly sounds that would be quite amusing out of context. It just so happens that this type of silly communication we use in fawning over babies is helpful to their learning. Sometimes referred to as “mother-ese” or even “baby talk”,

Infant-Directed Speech is the speaking style that adults often use to speak to their babies in a certain voice register, with exaggerated pronunciation of syllables, and a slower pace. 

This is something that most parents all over the world seem to naturally do, but research consistently proves that this manner of talking is beneficial for your young child’s language development. Babies’ brains are primed for the fast accumulation of words and language comprehension, but they need adults to talk to them and around them for them to learn. Experts say that babies need to hear a word about 500 times before they say them! (Albert Einstein College of Medicine, 2015). Infant-directed speech is a way that adults make learning words and sounds a little easier.

  • Several studies have found results showing that babies will pay attention longer to an adult using infant-directed speech than to adult-directed speech (Spinelli, 2017).
  • Brain scans on infants revealed higher amounts of brain activity for babies listening to infant-directed speech, than for normal speech (Naoi et.al., 2012).
  • Further research on infant-directed speech has found that children who were exposed to more infant-directed speech at age 1, tend to have a larger vocabulary at age 2 than children who were exposed to less. (Ramirez, 2014).

Note: Once children are above the age of 3, they benefit more from being spoken to in a normal tone of voice. They can recognize what “baby talk” is and don’t benefit from knowing that they are being spoken to like a baby- they want to feel big! Additionally, as they are already developing language acquisition, they learn from observing your modeling of how to talk and communicate in the proper way. Avoid using incorrect terms for things, like mimicking how they say “basketti” instead of “spaghetti” (even if it is absolutely adorable) so you can help them hear the correct word.

Tips for Helping Your Infant or Toddler Develop Language

  • Use “self-talk.” Narrate your day to day activities for your child as you go. It may seem funny to talk to your child before they can answer back, but they are listening! For example, say “Now I’m getting a new diaper!” during diaper changing, or “I’m cooking soup for dinner!” in the kitchen. They need to hear the different sounds of speech and associate words you say with what they see you do. Children typically learn language comprehension at a faster rate than they learn language production. They may understand a lot more than they can say. Some research shows that babies can understand many words at 7 months old and “practice them in their brains” (Shere, 2014).
  • Label what a child is doing and objects of interest for them. This is called “parallel talk”. For example, say, “You found the ball!”, when they reach for the ball. Use simple phrases for actions, such as saying “coats on!” when getting ready to go outside. (Walker & Bigelow, 2012).
  • For children under age 1, you can talk to them often and repeat simple sounds for them, letting them watch your mouth as you do. Repeating sounds such as “ba ba ba ba” or “da da da da da” breaks down language into a much simpler form for them. This may come through imitating the sounds that your child makes.
  • Read books with your child, starting at a young age. Help them come to learn that books are wonderful and fun. Use thick, board books that are less breakable for young toddlers and let them handle them. They might want a certain story to be read over and over again!
  • Singing songs and teaching children nursery rhymes are valuable learning tools because of the repetition of sounds. Children can learn songs at a young age. Music can teach them vocabulary, rhyming, math, social skills, and other things!
  • Follow what a child seems interested in and talk about those things. They will learn more as you use words to contribute to what they are already playing or show responsiveness to. (Walker & Bigelow, 2012).
  • When a child begins to make one or two word phrases like “Dog!”. Expand their words by adding detail and sentence structure. Say, for example, “Yes, that’s grandpa’s dog! He is little!”

So how can you help your baby or toddler develop language skills at an appropriate pace?

Talk to them and talk a lot! The more you engage them in the use of language the more easily and quickly they will be soon be speaking to you.


For more information, see the following resources:

A quick and helpful video from licensed speech pathologist, Kimberly Scanlon, author of the book, My Toddler Talks. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BdzlTyknaH8

For a helpful guide on promoting language development for your infant and toddler, see: – http://www.talk.ku.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/PC-Manual-web-site-and-distrib-9-26-141.pdf.

Watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a7WAfwKi88Q for a guide on the developmental milestones in language during your baby’s first year of life.

Video on research from San Diego University about how a child’s early language comprehension affects their later development: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I5bww1xreQE

References

Albert Einstein College of Medicine. (Apr. 15, 2015). Developmental Milestones: Baby Talk from First Sounds to First Words. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a7WAfwKi88Q

Skanlan, K. (Jun 26, 2013). Speech Therapy for Toddlers: 5 Great Tips! Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BdzlTyknaH8

  1. Naoi, Y. Minagawa-Kawai, A. Kobayashi, K. Takeuchi, K. Nakamura, J. Yamamoto, S. Kojima. (2012). Cerebral responses to infant-directed speech and the effect of talker familiarity Neuroimage, 59(2), 1735–1744.
  2. Ramirez-Esparza, A. Garcia-Sierra, P.K. Kuhl. (2014). Look who’s talking: Speech style and social context in language input to infants are linked to concurrent and future speech development. Developmental Science, 17(6), 880–891

Shere, J. (Nov. 7, 2014). Baby talk. In A Moment of Science. Retrieved from: http://indianapublicmedia.org/amomentofscience/baby-talk-amos/

Spinelli, M., Fasolo, M., & Mesman, J. (2017). Does prosody make the difference? A meta-analysis on relations between prosodic aspects of infant-directed speech and infant outcomes. Developmental Review, 441-18. doi:10.1016/j.dr.2016.12.001

Walker, D. & Bigelow, K. (2012). Strategies for Promoting Communication and Language of Infants and Toddlers. Juniper Gardens Children’s Project. Retrieved from: http://www.talk.ku.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/PC-Manual-web-site-and-distrib-9-26-141.pdf.

Photo obtained from https://pixabay.com/en/baby-cute-child-happy-toddler-toy-84552/

 

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