When I was a rookie mum and my first child turned one, a particularly concerned acquaintance kept asking me, "So, is he talking yet?" And every time she asked me this question, my mumbled reply was, "No, not yet."
As the months went by, I started to get really worried. The only "proper" words he said were "da" (this could have meant "dog" or "dad" – who knows) and "ammi" (that would be me) and a few more. But the majority of his speech was made up of 'baby talk' or babbling as it is known. This went on until he was a little over two years old, of course, more frequently interspersed with 'proper' words.
Now, I know better. I really shouldn't have been so worried back then, because babbling, or baby talk, is a perfectly normal part of a child's development. And with some little ones, it goes on for longer than for others.
So, one, we parents really ought to stop pressuring each other about how fast our babies could learn to talk. That's not a real measure of their intelligence nor is it an indicator that a child is "slow." Two, don't feel disheartened when your baby is still babbling while other kids their age are already saying more than five words. It's not a competition. Each kid has their own pace.
So, if your little one is babbling merrily away and you are starting to worry about when he will really start to talk, here is some great information for you to understand exactly how his babbling is actually helping him with language development. I've added more need-to-know information that will help better inform you about babbling.
The Babble is Not Nonsense
Image source: iStock
"Dad-dad ba ba ba baaa, mum-mum..."
While babbling may often sound like a string of nonsensical utterances, it's actually not. You will notice your baby starts babbling as early as 6 to 9 months. Research shows that baby talk is a really important component of language development. But in order to optimise on this aspect of speech development, there is one other very important element: your response to your baby.
In the past, parents were often told to talk to their babies using regular adult speech. However, current research has found that when babbling is prompted and responded to with "Parentese" – the exaggerated and highly animated style of speech parents use to talk to their baby – the result is most likely better language acquisition skills.
The encouragement of babbling has also been found to help bridge the "word gap," which is the term used to indicate the difference in speech and language development between babies at opposite ends of the socio-economic spectrum.
So babies from higher-income families are thought to develop language and speech at a faster pace. This is because their parents are highly responsive to their babbling. This is the opposite for little ones of lower-income families, for a variety of reasons. Parents are too tired from work to read their children bedtime stories is one pretty common reason.
So, the lesson here is to think of your child's babble as words that they're actually saying. So, when they're babbling, respond.
Learn the Difference between Baby Talk and Parentese
There's some buzz about baby talk making matters words for our kids' ability to start speaking. We dug deeper into that question and found that literature does not exactly say it's bad or would do more damage. It just doesn't help improve your baby's speech. What does work is Parentese.
So, if your baby or toddler is babbling but is unable to say any words, speak to them in Parentese. As said earlier, speaking to them in this language has proven to be more effective in developing their speech.
But, of course, let's clarify: what's Parentese? If you remember the children's shows you've watched from your childhood or let your kid watch Ms. Rachel on YouTube, you will notice that the characters don't babble or speak baby talk. Instead, they use proper words and grammar but in a more animated voice. The words are said longer and slower. So, simply mimic the way these TV characters speak, and you're golden.
How You Talk to Your Baby Matters
Maintain eye contact and smile while talking to your baby.
Ramírez-Esparza, assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, and her colleagues in UConn’s Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences, and Patricia Kuhl, co-director of the University of Washington’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences, led a study on early language development in little ones in 2015.
What they discovered was that the style of speech parents use, as well as the social context within which this speech takes place, is more effective at helping a baby's vocabulary grow than the number of words used.
Twenty-six babies (around one year of age) took part in the study. They wore vests containing audio recorders that collected sounds from their auditory environment for eight hours a day for four days.
Researchers analysed the recorded speech and when the babies were two years old, parents filled out a questionnaire measuring how many words their children knew. It was found that babies who had heard more baby talk knew more words.
"What our study shows is that how you talk to children matters,” Ramírez-Esparza says. “And the use of 'parentese' is much better at developing language than regular adult speech. It’s even better if communication occurs during one-on-one interactions.”
How to Achieve Speaking Parentese
Earlier in this article, we've laid down volumes of evidence to prove that speaking Parentese is going to do wonders for your toddler who is still babbling at 2 years old. Here are some of our tips to help you execute this language style for best results:
- First of all, remove all shyness and shame from inside of you before attempting to speak Parentese. It's going to feel really awkward, but it's going to be worth it in the end.
- Exaggerate your vowels. For example, "How are youuuu?" and "Look at thaaaaat!"
- Raise the pitch of your voice when talking to your little one to encourage more babbling from them in response.
- Whenever possible, 'talk' to your baby when there are no distractions from other kids or other adults around and as often as you can.
- Parentese is not all about elongating the vowels and using a high pitch. It's about attitude too. So, when code-switching to Parentese, make sure to deliver with a happy tone of voice.
- Read aloud to your baby whenever you can in order to ensure heightened communication. You can read them bedtime stories, read out information from cereal boxes, reading the signs that you pass by when you travel anywhere.
- Make eye contact with your baby.
- Point out and verbalise noises: "Listen, that doggy is saying 'WOOOF, WOOOF!'"
- Avoid letting your child watch TV shows or videos that do not encourage them to speak like Cocomelon.
Image source: iStock
Mums and dads, do keep in mind that speech delay in kids may be a red flag for other developmental issues. If you find they are still unable to utter a single word by their 18th month, it's time to speak to your child's doctor without delay.
Do read this article for more information: What you need to know about late talker and speech delay.
This article ends with this adorable video of twins babbling! Enjoy!
Updates by Kim Brua
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