Babytalk from parents boosts early-language skills

Mummy-wummy babytalk, or 'parentese', can help your baby learn more words, say scientists

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Using “mummy-wummy” babytalk to chat to your baby can help her language development, both now and in the future.

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So say US scientists, who’ve found that one-year-olds whose parents use high-pitched, exaggerated tones when they talk to them know over 250 words more a year later than children of the same age who parents don’t talk to them that way.

The scientists, from the University of Washington and University of Connecticut, also found that the more parents raise the pitch of their voice and exaggerate vowels – saying “How are youuuuu?”, for example – the more their babies babble back in response.

And, while babbling may sound like nonsense, it is, of course, the forerunner of word production.

“The fact that infant babbling itself plays a role in future language development shows how important the interchange between parent and child is,” says Patricia Kuhl, co-author of the study and co-director of the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences.

So, how do you ‘do’ babytalk?

Some parents find babytalk comes naturally but, if you don’t, try just chatting aloud to your child as you go about your everyday activities. Speak slowly, in a happy tone of voice, and emphasise the important words by lengthening the vowels. So, say, “Where are your shoooes?,” “Let’s change your naaaappyyyyyy,” and “Mm, this tastes goooood!”

“It’s not just talk, talk, talk at your child,” says Kuhl. “It’s more important to work toward interaction and engagement around language. You want to engage your baby and get her to babble back. The more you get that serve and volley going, the more language advances.”

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