As a parent-to-be, you've already read--and keenly anticipating--that you will hear your baby babble "mama" or "dada" in his sixth month milestone or so. However, babies don't typically start talking in phrases until they're nearing their second birthday. Wondering how you can boost your child’s speech development? Two separate studies may contain clues.
Recent research from the National University of Singapore, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, suggests that teaching your baby two languages simultaneously could help. They found that babies who were already learning to speak two languages--English and Mandarin were studied for the research--mastered the rules of language faster than monolingual babies.
“Our results dispel commonly held beliefs about bilinguals being slower in learning words,” said lead researcher Leher Singh, an associate professor from the department of psychology at the university's Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. “Parents need not worry that learning English will take away a child's potential to learn Mandarin as learning both languages may strengthen their knowledge of Mandarin.”
The study involved tracking the speech development of 72 babies aged 12 to 13 months. They observed if bilingual babies could pick up the difference in tone of Mandarin words (Mandarin words change meaning depending on intonation) even though no such rules existed in the English language.
They discovered that when English-Mandarin bilingual babies were spoken to in English they were able to ignore tone to learn new words. But, at the same time, they were able to pick up on it when being spoken to in Mandarin. They did considerably better than their monolingual counterparts who did not show mastery of the Mandarin tone system until months later.
Results of the study also showed that the bilingual babies also surpassed their monolingual peers in terms of vocabulary as they were able to learn new words more effectively.
“This is a novel finding, and the first study we know of that shows accelerated word learning in bilingual children, strongly suggesting that babies are not thwarted by learning two very different languages,” said Singh.
So, you may want to consider speaking to your child in both English and Filipino. Aside from that, use repetitive syllables, too, as a separate study shows that babies find it easier to learn words this way. It's an explanation as to why we’ve modified words like train to “choo-choo” or good night to “night-night,” researchers said.
The team from the University of Edinburgh assessed babies’ language learning behaviour by showing them two objects each named with a made-up word. One word had identical syllables, “neenee” for example, and the other did not, such as “bolay”.
Results showed that the babies showed more recognition at the objects labeled with repeated syllables compared to the one that wasn’t.
“This is the first evidence to show that infants have a repetition bias in learning new words,” said lead researcher Mitsuhiko Ota, from the university's school of philosophy, psychology and language sciences.
“It also shows that there may be a good reason why in so many cultures across the world, existing adult words and expressions are replaced by words with repeated syllables in baby-talk vocabulary. Some examples could be tum-tum, mama, dada, din-din and wee-wee,” Ota added.
Researchers added that words with repeated syllables could provide a good starting point for babies who have just started vocabulary learning.
However, every baby is different. And Liza Bulos, speech therapist at the Hope Developmental Center for Children in Las Piñas, tells parents not to worry if their child is a bit late. “Some children may just not be at ease with words. They may be better at jumping and other gross motor skills, or at coloring and other fine motor skills. Every language environment is different. Some households just tend to be more quiet or non-verbal than others,” she told Smart Parenting.
She also advises against jumping to conclusions and immediately putting the blame on a learning disability. “Sometimes it’s just a normal delay that can easily be corrected. Many times labeling a normal delay as autism or hyperactivity or mental retardation is more damaging,” she warns.