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  • Forget Baby Talk: Speaking 'Parentese' To Your Child Can Help Her Language Development

    Don’t be embarrassed to talk to your baby in a sing-song voice!
    by Kate Borbon .
Forget Baby Talk: Speaking 'Parentese' To Your Child Can Help Her Language Development
PHOTO BY iStock
  • Parents have a distinct way of talking to their babies, using a more cheerful tone or strange sentences. While it can sometimes feel or even embarrassing to talk to your baby in a sing-song voice, new research shows that doing so may significantly help her language development.

    In a study published earlier this month, researchers from the University of Washington’s Institute of Learning & Brain Sciences looked into whether encouraging parents to speak ‘parentese’ allows them to engage their babies in conversation.

    In an interview with CNN, Patricia Kuhl, I-Labs co-director and lead author of the study, discusses the three specific characteristics of parentese: a higher pitch, exaggerated intonation (the highs are higher and the lows are lower, so the speech sounds happier and more excited, and a slower pace, with longer pauses between the words, to allow babies to engage in the interaction.

    It’s also important to note that parentese is not the same as baby talk: While baby talk utilizes made-up words, parentese involves words that make sense and proper grammar. An example of parentese is, “Do you like the sound of Mommy’s voice? You like talking to me, don’t you?” and then giving the baby time to coo or babble in response.

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    In the study, families of six-month-old infants were divided into intervention and control groups. Each parent was given a lightweight recorder for their babies to wear; these devices recorded the conversations between the parents and their babies, allowing the researchers to measure how the babies responded to the ways their parents talked to them. Recordings were made when the babies were six, 10, 14, and 18 months old.

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    The families in the intervention group had to attend interventions where they were coached to speak parentese and informed of its benefits. The researchers wanted to see these could enhance parental language input and affect the babies’ language development between six and 18 months of age.

    First, the researchers found that babies seem to instinctively prefer when their parents talk to them in parentese. Kuhl tells CNN that when babies listen to a speech, “not only does the auditory cortex area in their brain light up, but the motor areas that will eventually speak light up.”

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    She continues, “The more parents naturally use parentese in their homes when speaking to their children, the better and faster those language skills develop. So, it turns out that parentese is a social catalyst for language. It gets kids not just listening but talking.”

    The researchers also discovered that interventions enhanced parents’ use of parentese and parent-child turn-taking between six and 18 months of age and that parents were more willing to talk in parentese if they knew it would help their children’s development.

    “We had no idea that parents would respond so positively to information about how their own speech to the child affects the child’s language development,” Naja Ferjan Ramirez, assistant professor of linguistics at the University of Washington, tells Romper.

    So, don’t feel embarrassed if you usually talk to your little one in a way that’s very different from how you normally talk. You’re doing her a favor!

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