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Does "baby talk" REALLY help your baby's language development?

Does "baby talk" REALLY help your baby's language development?

Using Parentese Baby Talk to Help Your Baby Grasp Language

The way you talk to your infant can have a big impact on their language development. In fact, according to recent research, parental language input is one of the best predictors of children’s language achievement. These days, experts recommend parents use “parentese” rather than traditional baby talk. In this article, we’ll explain parentese, and how to use it to advance your baby’s language skills.

Although still a form of baby talk, parentese differs from traditional baby talk in a few important ways. In traditional baby talk a parent might say “How’s mama’s widdle baby today? Do you want your babaaa?” in a high-pitched, cooing tone of voice. While cute, this type of baby talk employs made-up words and incorrect grammar; neither of which help to develop language skills. So, to summarize, traditional baby talk:

  • Has a higher pitch than adult speech
  • Has same cadence/tempo as adult speech
  • Uses made-up words
  • Uses incorrect grammar

Parentese (sometimes referred to as “motherese”) is a type of back-and-forth baby talk that uses a higher pitch, a slower tempo and more exaggerated intonation than normal language. It is a type of baby talk that encourages a baby to respond (even with just coos and babbles), and has been shown to lead to advances in children’s grasp of language. In parentese, the higher pitch and happy tone of traditional baby talk remain, but the tempo slows down and adult grammar and words are used. So, instead of “How’s mama’s widdle baby today? Do you want you babaaa?” you would say “How is mama’s little baby today? (pause for reaction/response). “Are you hungry?” (pause for reaction/response). “Should mama get you a bottle?!” (pause again). To summarize, parentese:

  • Has a higher pitch than adult speech
  • Has a slower cadence/tempo than adult speech
  • Uses adult words
  • Uses correct grammar
  • Employs pauses to allow for response/reaction

Parentese is essentially proper adult speech delivered in a higher pitch and slower cadence with pauses for response. A recent study showed that babies of parents coached in parentese showed significant gains in conversational turn-taking and vocalizations between 14 to 18 months old. 

Still not sure how to use parentese with your baby? We love this parentese guide created by the Center for Early Literacy Learning. Give their ideas a try and see if your baby shows positive signs like:

  1. Getting excited and making noises in response
  2. Looking intently at your face and mouth
  3. Responding differently than to adult speech

You want the best for you baby (of course!) and adopting parentese early on is a great way to boost language skills; giving your little one a leg up for the future.