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  • Baby Talk Doesn't Help With Language Development: Use Real Words!

    Another proof that babies’ brains are the best learning machines.
    by Kitty Elicay .
Baby Talk Doesn't Help With Language Development: Use Real Words!
  • You might not be aware of it but even in his early stages, your baby is continuously learning. In fact, a recent study said that babies’ brains are the “best learning machines ever created.” You can think of it this way: your baby has all the potential to be grow up smart — it's up to the parents (and later with the help of his schools) to put in the extra effort for milestones like his speech and language development.

    You count the down the days when you hear your baby’s first word. But did you know that you can already jumpstart this even before he starts talking?

    A recent study published in the journal Infancy found that verbally engaging with babies — listening to their coos and gurgles, and then talking back like in a normal conversation — may boost babies’ language development more than simply talking at them or around them.

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    Researchers from the University of Iowa and Indiana University in the United States observed a small group of mothers and their infants in individual unstructured play sessions for six months, starting when their babies were eight months old. Whenever the babies started to babble, they noted the moms’ responses as “redirective,” or when they turned the baby’s attention elsewhere, e.g. showing them a toy; or “sensitive” when the moms verbally replied or imitated and expounded on the sounds that babies made. For example, if the baby says “dada,” mom would respond with, “Dada is working. I am mama.”

    After the study, researchers found that babies whose mothers responded in a “sensitive” manner had increased rates of consonant-vowel vocalizations. They weren’t simply babbling — their babbles actually resembled real syllables. Babies also directed these sounds at their mothers, showing that they were “speaking” to them.

    More than proving how incredible a baby’s brain is, the research shows that babies are able to say and respond accordingly if their parents interpret their sounds and act as if they understand what their babies were saying. In a way, the mothers were teaching their babies that voices aren’t just used for noises but as a way to communicate.

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    A similar study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, backs this research up. Something as simple as engaging in back-and-forth conversation with a parent can boost a child’s language and brain development. “The important thing is not just to talk to your child but to talk WITH your child. It’s not just about dumping language into your child’s brain, but to actually carry on a conversation with them,” said Rachel Romeo, the lead author of the study published in the Psychological Science journal.

    So, if you used to think that other parents were crazy for pretending to have conversations with their babies, now is the time to follow their lead. Don’t worry about sounding silly — here are more ways to talk to your child and effectively teach him about language:

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    1. Avoid baby talk.

    “Babies have yet to learn our language and the way we communicate,” says Ronald Ferguson, a professor at Harvard University. He suggests talking to babies in real words from the start and use high-pitched, sing-songy voices, which babies like hearing.


    2. Use gestures.

    Pointing at objects while you say what word it is helps babies expand their vocabulary. Similarly, when you tell your baby “yes” while nodding your head, then shaking your head when you say “no” will help him understand what it means.

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    3. Get up close and personal when you talk to baby.

    According to literacy expert Meredith Rowe from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Boston Medical Center pediatrician Barry Zuckerman, infants only learn language through human interaction, as compared to watching the same words being said by a person on TV. Reacting face-to-face to your baby's babbling teaches her “how to take turns in social interchanges, which sets the stage for language learning.” The two have published a commentary in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, which provide specific guidelines on the kind of conversation you should hold at each stage of your child's growth. Read it here.

    4. Repetition is key.


    “Infants are more likely to learn a word if they hear that word repeated multiple times during engaging interactions,” says Rowe and Zuckerman. What this means is that you also need to be patient when talking to your kids. When in doubt, repeat!

    Your baby will be able to speed up his learning with your help, but don’t stress yourself and your baby out trying to get him to talk right away. Focus instead on the most important thing: engaging in  interactions that will make your baby feel loved and cared for. You can do it, moms and dads!

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