How 'parentese' helps develop your baby's language skills

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 Photo: Getty Images

Baby talk does more than just entertain babies - it helps foster important language skills, too. 

How often we talk to our kids, the variety of words we use, and even the pitch and speed of our voices can make a difference to their how they develop their skills.  

Baby talk - also known as infant-directed speech, or "parentese" - is a focus of a new study at Western University Sydney's new BabyLab. 

Marina Kalashnikova, a researcher in infancy studies with the program, says that "parentese" is much more than just a cute way of talking to babies.

"Parents increase the pitch of their voice, which maintains the attention of their babies more, and makes the task of learning language easier," she says. "Parents also exaggerate the pronunciation of sounds in their speech."

She says that the amount of time parents spend talking with their babies one-on-one each day "varies vastly across families".

"The more speech babies hear where the parent is actually engaging with them, it has a very positive impact on how they develop language. 

"Not just talking to your partner or another adult or while the baby is playing or while the telly is on, but actual face-to-face interaction with your baby."

Dr Kalashnikova is the academic leader at BabyLab, which researches infants' speech perception and language acquisition at the university's MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour and Development.

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The university is recruiting more pint-sized subjects for its new BabyLab, which launches on Friday at the Kingswood campus.

Most babies say their first words around 12 months and "usually talk about what's closest to them," Dr Kalashnikova said, adding that 'mum' and 'dad' often come first. 

"They say 'nana' or whatever word they use for grandma, and also whatever word they use for granddad. Many of them say their dog's name [or] their cat's name."

Learn more about BabyLab, and how to get involved, at babylab.uws.edu.au.