Time to stop the baby babble? New ways to communicate with your baby
Hearing your baby make coos and gurgles is pretty irresistible. Your baby is responding to you, beginning the early stages of communication, and growing language skills. It may be tempting to respond in kind, but knowing when to stop baby babble and switch to parentese, which means speaking directly to a baby using real words and simple phrases, can boost your baby's language skills and help them learn real words.
Baby babble, or baby talk, combines silly sounds and nonsense words, much like a baby does naturally. You've likely heard grandparents, parents, and siblings talk to babies this way, which can be funny. However, by adopting a few tactics for using real words in a particular tone, you can encourage your baby to develop language skills beyond the babble.
Understanding parentese for language development
You might speak parentese to your baby without even thinking about it, as parentese comes naturally to many people. The speaker elongates vowel sounds and uses exaggerated tones. But speaking in parentese may do more than just engage a baby.
Researchers at the University of Washington linked parentese to improved language outcomes when parents or caregivers talk to their babies using phrases with simple structure and exaggerated sounds. When parents speak in a high pitch with a slow tempo, babies learn to respond. The baby may babble back, but they're hearing and watching another person speak using real words.
If you wanted to engage your baby with parentese, you might start by greeting them and saying their name. "Hiiiii, Kate!" Then pause. Did your baby respond or look at you and smile? Then you can ask her a question or point and look at something together. "Do you see the dooog?" You'd say these phrases in a singsong, happy way, making eye contact and pointing to the dog, for example.
Building language skills
It's never too early to start talking with your baby's pediatrician and learning about developmental milestones.
As early as 3 months old, babies typically recognize your voice and smile or stay quiet when you're talking to them. By 6 months old, babies will make more sounds and start babbling. Before their first birthday, babies might start saying a few words and imitating speech patterns.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, the first three years of life are the most intensive period for building speech and language skills.
By using parentese during the first year of life and beyond, parents and caregivers can support their child's language development. In one University of Washington study, babies of parents who participated in coaching sessions on parentese produced more words by 14 months old than infants whose parents were not taught the technique.
Use conversational turns instead of baby babble
A key part of parentese and speaking clearly to babies is engaging in back-and-forth conversation. That means giving babies a chance to respond after asking them questions. These exchanges, called conversational turns, happen when you and your baby interact with vocalizations. These early stages of verbal communication help a baby practice and solidify social communication skills.
Follow these tips for chatting with your baby to boost their language skills:
- Ask questions. Whether on a walk in the neighborhood or in your house, ask baby questions about your surroundings. Look in the mirror together — ask your baby, "Who is that?" Say their name. Look at pictures of family members or photo albums and point out Mommy, Daddy, grandparents, and siblings. Give your baby a chance to point, too.
- Give your baby a chance to respond. Say
the words slowly and point. Let your baby listen and watch for cues.
- Identify and point out everyday objects.
Describe the common objects in your baby's life.
- Listen. After telling your baby a word or
phrase, listen and pay attention. They may attempt to say the word back to you.
Repeat it again slowly for emphasis.
- Play hand games. "How big is baby?"
"Soooo big!" Patty Cake, Peek-a-Boo, and the Itsy-Bitsy Spider all encourage
your baby to respond to singing and hand motions. Help your baby clap along,
and as they develop, give them a chance to respond on their own.
- Read books together. While sharing stories is always a good practice, look at pictures in books together and talk about what objects you might see from your baby's environment. Give them time to respond, either by pointing or making a vocalization.
Sometimes parenting can feel overwhelming. Any positive connections you make with your children are beneficial for their development and growth. Your pediatrician will ask questions about your baby's language development at every well-child checkup, especially within the first three years.
If you have concerns or questions about your child talking or listening, find a pediatrician at Reid Health. Early intervention can improve your child's communication and development.