If you've found yourself cooing in ‘baby talk’ to your baby, you're off to a good start - recent research has confirmed that this kind of communication can be more beneficial for your child's language development than using normal speech.
“What our analysis shows is that the prevalence of baby talk in one-on-one conversations with children is linked to better language development,” says Patricia Kuhl, co-author of the study and co-director of the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning and Brain Studies.
A joint project from the University of Washington and the University of Connecticut, researchers studied over 4000 short audio clips of parents talking to their one-year-old babies. Researchers measured whether the adults used normal English or spoke in highly animated baby talk (otherwise known as ‘parentese’), and if babies were spoken to in group or one-on-one situations.
When the babies were two years old the parents were asked to fill out a survey, listing how many words their children knew. Researchers then found that babies who were spoken to in ordinary English knew an average of 169 words, while babies who had been addressed in baby talk knew an average of 433 - over two-and-a-half times more words than their peers.
Interestingly, the study highlights that quality is key in the interaction babies have with language.
“What this study is adding [to previous research] is that how you talk to children matters. Parentese is much better at developing language than regular speech, and even better if it occurs in a one-on-one interaction,” says Nairán Ramíez-Esparza, first author of the study and assistant psychology professor at the University of Connecticut.
Babbling in parentese to your baby - and encouraging your baby to babble back - is one of the most effective ways of improving their understanding of language. In fact, the study shows that the more you exaggerate your vowels and raise your pitch, the more babies will respond with their own babble.
Previous studies have shown that babies learn faster when spoken to in baby talk; a 2005 study by psychology professor Erik Thiessen showed that babies who were exposed to parentese understood language more quickly than babies who had been exposed to normal speech in their tests.