Baby Talk

Read about being a mother of 12 as our resident 'Supermom' shares her wise parenting advice.

A different kind of voice

I know plenty of people who refuse, on principal, to speak baby talk to their babies. All I can tell you is that I have 12 children, and I never once considered that baby talk might be somehow injurious to my children's ability to learn proper language skills. In fact, it just seemed natural to adopt a different kind of voice for the little ones.

That's why I was pleased to see a study on the subject by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where psychologist Erik Thiessen found that infant-directed baby talk helps babies learn to speak faster than hearing normal adult speech. Thiessen and his team of researchers had 8 month old babies listen to fluent speech made up of nonsense words, then assessed how many words they had learned after less than two minutes. The infants who heard the nonsense words spoken with the exaggerated cadence typical of baby talk learned language faster than those who heard normal adult speech spoken in more of a monotone.

It's something that adults have always done with babies and if we stop to think about it, it makes a lot of sense to use infant directed (ID) speech. ID is slower, has longer pauses, is spoken in a higher frequency, has more variation in pitch, simplified sentence structure and contains repeated intonations. Of course this is helping our young'uns to learn to speak! ID is tailor made for teaching language.

The natural way to teach babies

In fact, when an adult wants to learn a foreign language, he will be more successful when there is repetition, variation in pitch, simplified sentence structure. He'll catch on faster when he is spoken to at a slower rate and with more pauses. Doing what comes naturally is the natural way to teach babies or adults to learn a language.

The nature of baby talk is such that it breaks up sentences into parts, helping babies to understand where syllables, words, and sentences start and end. This is called segmentation. When we speak to our babies in ID we are teaching them all about the structure of spoken language.

We knew it all along

But some researchers are focusing on other aspects of baby talk. One study suggests that baby talk is part of the emotional bonding process. Of course, we knew this already, without having to resort to fancy experiments. Saying, "Goo goo, ga ga," makes a baby's mouth melt into a smile. We knew that all along.

For more information on speech and your baby check out our baby development videos.