Beyond Baby Talk: Helping Early Language

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By Robert Preidt
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, February 5, 2020 (HealthDay News) – Teaching parents how talking to their babies could help boost their children's language development, researchers say.

The Washington University study did not analyze the so-called children's talk, which generally consists of silly sounds and meaningless words.

Instead, the researchers focused on what is called parentese. This is an appropriate speech with elongated vowels and exaggerated voice tones that attract babies' attention and encourage them to respond.

"We have known for some time that the use of parentese is associated with better results in language. But we did not know why," said Patricia Kuhl, co-director of the Institute of Learning and Brain Sciences.

"We believe that parentese facilitates language learning due to its simpler linguistic structure and exaggerated sounds. But this new work suggests a more fundamental reason," Kuhl said in a university press release.

The study found that parents who were given individual training used parentese more frequently than parents who were not trained. The training led to more "conversations" between parents and children and increased the child's language skills months later.

"Now we believe that parentese works because it is a social hook for the baby's brain: its high tone and slower rhythm are socially attractive and invite the baby to respond," Kuhl explained.

Parents noted that parents voluntarily altered their speech once the way they speak could help their baby learn.

At 18 months, parent surveys estimated that children's vocabulary averaged around 100 words among children in trained families, compared with 60 words among children without parental training.

"Language evolved to facilitate the social communication skills that are essential for the survival of the species. In this study, we look firsthand at how parents' language and social commitment can promote the baby's initial receptive coos, which they turn into words and then into sentences, educating babies in the art of human communication, "said Kuhl.

The study followed a 2018 project. The training was conducted at 6, 10 and 14 months, with follow-up of families up to 18 months. The results were published online on February 3 in procedures of the National Academy of Sciences.

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SOURCE: University of Washington, press release, February 3, 2020

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