18 May Talking the Baby Talk
Have you ever noticed that, when you talk to a baby, your gut reaction is to slow your speech and use a high-pitched voice? This is something that doctors call “infant-directed speech,” or more commonly, “baby talk.” And it’s totally natural.
What We Mean by “Baby Talk”
When pediatricians talk about “baby talk,” we’re not suggesting that you say things like “goo-goo, ga-ga” to your newborn. Quite simply, that kind of talk doesn’t help them with their language development skills. When we say “baby talk,” we’re talking about raising the pitch of your voice, exaggerating some of your syllables, and speaking more slowly than normal.
How Does That Help Them Learn the Language?
There are some people who think that using baby talk inhibits a baby’s speech development because they’re not hearing speech like how it is in the “real world.” The truth is that babies prefer baby talk to adult-directed speech, and they pay more attention to it. One reason for that is your baby will hear you use adult-directed speech when speaking with other adults, so when you use baby talk, they’ll recognize that you’re actually speaking to them and pay attention. When they pay more attention, they pick up the language faster and easier.
Before babies start understanding individual words and their meaning, they learn about intonation and rhythm. The fluctuations help babies subconsciously grasp the building blocks of language (like what makes a question, etc.). When your baby starts cooing back at you and you respond to them, they’ll figure out that speech is a two-way process. After that, the baby begins to understand individual words. The first words they’ll probably grasp are ones that you say often and that usually stand by themselves (like “no,” “hi,” and “bye-bye”). It’s easier for babies to identify words that are spoken by themselves because they don’t need to differentiate them from other words in a sentence.
With Language, More Is Better
The more you talk to your baby, the better their language skills will develop. It’s important to note that this only applies to human interaction—having your baby listen to people on the radio or the TV won’t help their language development. While it’s important to have “conversations” with your baby, you can also just tell them what you’re thinking about or point out objects in your home or as you’re walking with them down the street. You can read the recipe you’re making or the book you’re reading out loud—every little bit helps. It’s important to make eye contact with your baby, even if you don’t think they can understand you. Be sure to smile and laugh and use lots of facial expressions, because babies eat that kind of stuff up.
For more information, visit healthychildren.org. If you have questions or would like to discuss any concerns you have regarding your baby, you can schedule an appointment with me, Dr. Kathryn Mandal, by calling 817-617-8600 or scheduling online at continuumtx.com.