Baby Talk – how it plays a part in how your baby learns language

When we speak lovingly to our infants, we often refer to this sing-song speech as “baby talk.” This language, filled with sound and animation, is also referred to as “Motherese”, “Fatherese,” or “Parentese.” “We naturally use a higher pitch when talking to babies and exaggerate our facial expressions and pronunciation to get a newborn to smile or react to what we’re saying. Baby talk is an infant’s introduction to speech and could help teach babies what certain words mean.

When it comes to your baby and speech, there has been a long-standing debate about whether baby talk can hinder a child’s ability to speak properly and interpret language as they age. Some parents see baby talk as an essential step in teaching their baby to talk while others feel that babies won’t learn language execution and comprehension if baby talk is used too often. Research has been conducted to determine whether baby talk is beneficial for newborns.

Imitating adult language can help a child learn to speak. However, “parentese” is an effective way to create and strengthen the bond between a baby and their parent/caregiver. This meaningful attachment can help the baby develop healthy relationships with others as they grow. Babies from a variety of cultures and geographical locations show interest in certain inflections and words no matter what language their families speak. This indicates that babies can learn social cues from “parentese,” as well as other fundamentals of conversation such as voice inflection and eye contact.

As soon as a few days after birth, an infant’s brain has impressive neuroplasticity which means the baby can quickly create neural connections and take in new information like a sponge. As the infant starts to smell, see, and hear for the first time, they form first impressions that will last for the rest of their lives. Studies have also shown that infants learn to recognize their caretaker’s voice and prefer this sound since it provides a sense of comfort. Researchers aren’t sure whether it is more beneficial to talk to babies with adult speech from the time they are born. However, brain scanning allows us to study the reactions in a baby’s brain when adults use “motherese” in the child’s native language and a foreign language. Patricia Kuhl’s TED talk discusses one important study involving baby talk.

Overall, it is important for parents to keep in mind that there is no right or wrong way to introduce your child to language. If you’ve recently welcomed a baby into your family, it’s vital to speak to your newborn as much as possible whether you choose “parentese” or want to talk to your child using traditional adult language. This helps babies to start rationalizing language and become accustomed to the sound of your voice. Remember that infants are constantly absorbing new information and making connections that will help them feel safe and make them accustomed to their environment.

There will likely be times when you’ll use baby talk instinctively with your infant and you’ll likely have to make an effort to speak to them using adult language. However, specialists recommend weaning your child from “motherese” or “fatherese” as they approach their toddler years. During the toddler stage, your child will develop more advanced language skills and form a pattern of speech that they will likely utilize throughout childhood. This is why transitioning into adult language as your child gets older is so important. By the time your little one is ready to talk, establishing a communication foundation that includes “parentese” will give your child the comfort and confidence they need to speak and understand language clearly, no matter what language your family speaks.


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