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Moreover, even though parents around the world tend to use this type of speech naturally with their little ones, learning to mindfully talk this way to your baby could significantly boost her language development, researchers at the University of Washington found.
First a primer on what parentese is and isn't. It's not the same as what some people call "baby talk," which is a string of cute, silly sounds and words like, "Ooooh, how's my cutie wutie's tiddly tummy today?"
- Grammatically correct with real words
- High pitched compared to how you speak with an older child or adult
- Spoken in a tone that's exaggerated and goes up and down a lot
- Expressive in tone – sounds happy and excited
Most likely, you already do this naturally when you talk to your baby.
Back to the study. The researchers divided more than 70 parents and their 6-month-olds into two groups. One group received three coaching sessions on how to optimize parentese when talking to their infant. The other group did not get coaching.
At the beginning of the study, and when the babies turned 10, 14, and 18 months, the researchers gave parents a lightweight recorder to put on their child and record their interactions together over two days. The scientists then analyzed the recordings, noting how many words the parents used when talking to their baby, how much they interacted with their child, and what their speech sounded like. As the study progressed, the researchers also noted the babbling, sounds, and words the babies used, as well as how much they interacted with their parents.
All of the parents in the study used some parentese. But – not surprising – those who received the coaching used more of it and with greater consistency, the researchers found.
By 18 months, babies whose parents got the coaching had a bigger vocabulary (about 100 words) and more complex language skills than the babies whose parents did not get coaching. Babies in the control group knew about 60 words, said the researchers, who published their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"We believe parentese makes language learning easier because of its simpler linguistic structure and exaggerated sounds," said Patricia Kuhl, one of the study authors and director of the University of Washington's Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences. "We now think parentese works because it's a social hook for the baby brain – its high pitch and slower tempo are socially engaging and invite the baby to respond."
Another recent study from Stanford University found that babies around the world listen and engage more with parentese-type speech.
"Often parents are discouraged from using baby talk by well-meaning friends or even health professionals," said that study's coauthor, psychologist Michael Frank. "But the evidence suggests that it's actually a great way to engage with your baby because babies just like it – it tells them, 'This speech is meant for you!'"
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