Did you know that the ways in which you speak with your baby can make it more (or less!) likely for them to pick upon on language?
According to a study published in the journal Developmental Science, here are the two most important factors in helping babies develop language skills, plus a bonus step at the end to put it all together.
1. Speak in Parentese (not the same as “baby talk”).
Parentese does not mean making up nonsensical sounds and words just to entertain your baby. It’s actually making normal conversation in a sort of sing-songy way. And most people do it intuitively when speaking to babies!
To your significant other you might say: Morning. Hope you made coffee?
To your baby you would say: Oh good morn-ing! I bet yoouuu could use a new diiiiaper!
Parentese is slower. Each vowel and word becomes more distinct, which makes them easier for baby to discern. The pitch is higher, which matches the limited range of a baby’s vocal tract.
Speaking this way helps your baby pick out and imitate parts of language. It’s helpful for about the first 18 months.
2. Prioritize one-on-one interaction.
Babies learn language better if one adult is speaking directly to baby versus baby listening to two adults speak.
Talk directly to your baby. If baby simply overhears someone talking, that doesn’t provide the same boost in vocabulary or language proficiency. Neither does playing audio or video of someone talking. The brain is electrified by face-to-face interaction,…The presence or absence of that social connection…determines whether a baby’s brain is open or closed to learning language.
3. Engage in conversation rather than talking at baby.
As mentioned above, baby’s brain is “electrified” by both face-to-face interaction and social connection so don’t just talk and talk and expect baby to listen.
It’s more important to work toward interaction and engagement around language. You want to engage the infant and get the baby to babble back. The more you get that serve and volley going, the more language advances.
What about newborns who aren’t doing much babbling just yet? Here’s some ideas:
- Be a tour guide
- Tell stories
It may all seem silly at first, but your baby longs to be a part of your life in every way possible. Including them in conversation and speaking to them in ways they can more easily hear and understand means building a connection you’ll be thankful for later on.
Plus, according to the study:
Babies who heard more “one-on-one parentese” shot ahead of the others in language development. Around age 1, they babbled more than babies who heard less one-on-one parentese. When the tots turned 2, parents checked off a list of 680 words (a standard inventory) to report how many words their children spoke.
Babies who had heard the most one-on-one parentese had a much bigger vocabulary than those who had heard the least: 433 words vs. 168 words.
More than double the vocabulary! How’s that for a boost?
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