When you pass by parents talking to their babies, you may hear different types of baby talk. They could be making up new words or sounds, talking slower or in a sing-song voice. Is baby talk good for baby? What can you do if you want to build up your baby’s language skills? Let us look at some of these research!
What is baby talk?
Baby talk comes in many forms and research thus far is positive for baby talk, but not talking like a baby! Baby talk commonly refers to talking slowly, emphasizing certain words and speaking more animatedly. Common words such as “mummy”, “baby” and “milk” are repeated often and sometimes, using wide range of pitch, rhythm and intonations. Talking like a baby, on the other hand, are making sounds without any meaning, such as “wa-a-a-“ or “ba-a-a”.
Here are some pros and cons of doing baby talk!
Pros of baby talk
#1 Match baby’s language development
It is believed that babies learn words that are spoken slower, repeated and exaggerated. In baby talk, the slower speech helps your baby to identify the words better as they take a longer time to process the words. Similarly, words that are at the end of the phrase make it easier for babies to learn the words such as, “do you like the t-e-d-d-y?”. Words that are isolated from the rest of the sentence also make it easier for babies to identify and learn. Repeated words also make it easier for babies to learn, and thus words like “mummy” and “bye-bye” are among the first words that your baby may pick up. It is believed that the more a baby hears a word, the easier it is to associate the words with object, and identify it from other words in a sentence.
#2 Aid baby’s brain development
It has also been researched that speaking repetitive words have aided baby’s brain development and activity, and thus believed to help with language processing. Personal interaction during conversations, even among babies, had been shown to increase baby’s brain activity!
#3 Improve vocabulary
In a 2014 study, it was found that babies whose parents use more baby talk babbled more. The researchers found that by age two, babies who babbled more also had a wider range of vocabulary. There was thus an association between listening to more baby talk (as opposed to families who used more adult talk and talked less) and being able to speak more words.
#4 Improve speech
The to-and-fro communication between baby and parents had been studied to encourage the baby to learn words and be able to vocalize more. The more effort your baby make to listen out for words and try to communicate, the faster your baby will learn to speak.
Cons of baby talk
#1 Limited “beneficial” window
Although baby talk has some benefits in the baby’s first year, it is unlikely to benefit when the baby is older than two years old. There is the concern that the baby may even learn to pick up a speech style that is not appropriate in the long term. Should baby talk becomes a habit within the family when interacting with the child, it will limit the range of vocabulary and sentences that the child is exposed to.
#2 Less variety in speech
Babies have been studied to be able to pick up speech when there is more one-to-one interaction and have a high capacity to absorb different forms of speech. Therefore in families where only very simple and faux words are used, the babies’ ability to learn words and the opportunity for them to do so has been reduced. A study showed that speaking in longer and more varied sentences can boost a baby’s language skills and thus, it is advisable to use proper grammar and full-sentence conversations even if your baby doesn’t understand it. A full-sentence likely provides more context for which the words are used, and would help your baby to understand the link between words and concepts.
#3 Faux words
Using faux words (a make-up word between the baby and parent) may impede the baby’s language learning ability. While a parent may think that it is difficult for the baby to learn the word “train” and replace it with “choo-choo”, there is no evidence to suggest that “choo-choo” will be easier for the baby to understand. It also deprives the baby of the chance to learn the real word for it.
#4 Negative role modeling
Some experts are concerned with parents speaking like a baby (to the baby) as being a negative role model – babies learn by observing actions, body language, words and speech and may not be able to distinguish that such conversation style is not normal. Especially for the first five years of age (which is the best time for a child to learn language), communicating like babies may hamper the progress of language acquisition.
Tips to build your baby’s language skills
Here are some tips on building your baby’s language skills!
#1 Pay attention to your baby – Interacting with your baby, looking at him/ her and smiling can help encourage your baby to learn the language. Positive social interaction can promote the relationship between parent and child, which further motivates your baby to communicate with you.
#2 Speak slower and clearly – As your baby needs time to process words, speaking slowly can help your baby to process the words. Speak clearly and try to separate the words in a sentence so that your baby can distinguish the words.
#3 Modify your voice range and pitch – Making your voice pitch higher and changing your intonation with emphasis on key words can also help your baby to identify the words more easily.
#4 Repeat key words – Repetition makes the association between the word and the object easier for your baby.
You do not have to worry about how to communicate with your baby as it is a natural process. In families with healthy relationships, the conversation style between parents and their child evolve as the child grows and there is generally no need to think too much about how to talk to your baby!