Babies learn about language and sound even before they are born, thanks to moms who talk to their little ones while inside the womb. According to research, newborns can recognize the voices they hear during their last trimester in the womb and prefers the voice of their mom over a stranger’s voice. But while moms and babies establish a connection early on, dads also play an important role when it comes to their baby’s language development.
A new study from the Laboratory of Contemporary Anthropology at the University of Fudan in China found that both parents influence the way a baby picks up on a new language, but the areas of language that they learn from each parent differ.
The study’s lead author, Menghan Zhang, found that while a baby adapts pronunciation and sound from his mother, he may actually be acquiring his vocabulary from his dad. The study showed there were strong links between paternal genes and lexical characteristics (lexical relates to the words or vocabulary of a language), while maternal genes and phonemic characteristics were strongly related.
A similar study in 2006, published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology found that fathers may have a greater impact than mothers on their children’s language development between ages 2 and 3. Researchers from the University of North Carolina videotaped pairs of parents and their toddler children in their homes during playtime. According to their findings, children whose fathers used more diverse vocabularies had greater language development when they were tested a year later. The mothers’ vocabulary did not significantly affect a child’s language.
If anything, these studies highlight the importance of both parents' presence when it comes to child-rearing. “These findings underscore that for two-parent, dual-earner families, fathers should be included in all efforts to improve language development and school readiness,” said Nadya Panscofar, a graduate student and one of the authors of the 2006 study.
Dads, those cuddle sessions are a great start. It's a natural way for you to bond and stimulate learning. And don’t forget the value of playtime — in particular, songs and rhymes are influential in learning, according to children’s book author Anna Manuel. It slows down language and helps children hear the words, rhymes, and cadence more clearly, thus helping with language acquisition.
You can also take your cue from celebrity dad and doctor Hayden Kho, who says that it’s never too early for a baby to start learning. Scarlet Snow had a steady learning routine by the time she was a toddler (see a schedule of her daily activities here). “The best approach is to just enjoy them and discover by spending a lot of time with them, what their natural gifts are, and celebrate that,” Hayden says.
Expanding a child’s vocabulary is just one of the lifelong benefits that dads contribute to their child’s well-being. (From making baby less fussy to making him smarter, you can find that list here.) A dad who is involved with his children, the smarter they turn out to be as kids, and the more successful as adults.