For your baby, it’s not what you say, but how you say it

Researchers find that babies pick up on their mum’s tone no matter what language they speak

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Your baby understands your tone of voice not the words said, a new study has revealed. 

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Researchers found that babies reacted to their mums’ voices whether they were speaking English or Greek.

The scientists studied the babies’ reactions as they watched their mums carry out actions with toys saying the words “whoops” and “there” in English. This process was then repeated using Greek words instead.

The results of the study found the babies responded the same way no matter what language mum spoke.

“What this work showed was that children could have access to understanding using simply the tone of voice,” said Dr Merideth Gattis, from Cardiff University’s School of Psychology, who led the study.

The study involved 84 babies, aged 14-18 months. None of the babies had been previously exposed to the Greek language.

With tone of voice being what children respond to when their parents talk, Merideth said the research findings also show that what parents say is less important than how they say it.

“It could be the child asks us if you like their drawing. You might say yes, but if you don’t sound enthusiastic, it could be that meaning doesn’t get across,” said Merideth.

And for parents who find talking to babies difficult? “This study shows that they shouldn’t worry so much about what to say, but rather pay attention to the tone,” explained Merideth.

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