The best way to get babies talking is to talk to them using baby talk. Researchers recently listened in on parent-child “conversations” to discover the best techniques for parents teaching children to “use their words”. Researchers at the University of Washington and the University of Connecticut discovered that it wasn’t how many words babies heard, but how they heard them. Style of speech and social context are what really matter.
“What our analysis shows is that the prevalence of baby talk in one-on-one conversations with children is linked to better language development, both concurrent and future,” says Patricia Kuhl, study co-author and co-director of the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences.
How surprising is that? Baby talk turns out to be the best kind of talk for babies! Well, it certainly worked in my daughter’s case. At first, I resolved that I wouldn’t stoop so low as to talk down to any child of mine. But I did it anyway. And she talks just fine. Early and often are her conversational watch words.
It appears that the exaggerated tones and stretched vowels that we use when talking to children are just what they need to get them talking back. Even if it’s only a “goo goo” or the odd “ga ga,” the nonsense syllables of early language learners are the word-blocks they build on to learn to speak with real words more rapidly.
The best time for baby talk? One-on-one, without other children or parents around. Focused attention is the secret weapon of language students at any age.
“The fact that the infant’s babbling itself plays a role in future language development shows how important the interchange between parent and child is,” Kuhl says. “It’s not just talk, talk, talk at the child. It’s more important to work toward interaction and engagement around language. You want to engage the infant and get the baby to babble back. The more you get that serve and volley going, the more language advances.”
“Some parents produce baby talk naturally and they don’t realize they’re benefiting their children,” says first author Nairán Ramírez-Esparza, an assistant psychology professor at the University of Connecticut. “Some families are more quiet, not talking all the time. But it helps to make an effort to talk more.”
Go ahead, use your words. That’s so goooood!