Thank You, "Parentese," for Growing Baby's Vocab
A manner of speech that comes naturally to many parents may be key to helping children master more words
Do you speak “parentese” with your baby? If not, you might want to start.
A new study has found that infants and young toddlers exposed to more “parentese” through one-on-one interactions with their caregivers had much larger vocabularies by age 2 than their peers.
The findings “are consistent with the idea that infants’ early speech and later word production may be related to the social context and the style of speech directed toward the child,” researchers from the University of Connecticut and the University of Washington wrote in an article to be published in the journal Developmental Science.
So what exactly is “parentese”? Think baby talk, but less “googoo, gaga” and more “shooooes” and “diiiaper.” In other words, it entails exaggerating the sounds of the words you’re using with your baby. It also means pronouncing words at a slower tempo and at a higher or “happier” pitch.
For many parents, it’s a manner of speech that comes naturally when talking to their tots. Neha Gogate, a New Jersey mom of two, finds herself exaggerating the way she says words like “mommy,” “daddy,” “ball” and “cookie.”
She said she does it most with her newly 1-year-old baby “when he’s babbling and we are working on sounds.”
“I plan to do it more as he gets older and when he’s trying to say actual words,” she added.
Like Gogate’s son, the children in the study were all about 1-year-old. Researchers monitored 26 families in all and, to figure out what each child was hearing, dressed the babies in vests containing audio recorders.
The recorders were on for eight hours a day for four days. Afterward, researchers used software to examine more than 4,000 30-second snippets of recorded speech, distinguishing parentese from regular speech and determining how many different people were talking.
When the children were about 2 years old, parents filled out a questionnaire to measure how many words the tots were saying. What they found was that children exposed to the greatest amount of parentese while interacting with a single individual knew roughly 433 words. Children exposed to the least amount of parentese, meanwhile, knew just 168.
Researchers also found that it was the quality of speech, not the quantity of words used, that affected children’s language development.
“It’s not just talk, talk, talk at the child,” Patricia Kuhl, co-director of the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences, said in a statement announcing the study’s results. “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.”
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