“Parentese” – More than just Baby Talk

What exactly comes to mind when we think baby talk? Is it perhaps meaningless sounds like “goo goo ga ga” or sentences that simply sound absurd due to being made up of silly words and sounds that have an utter disregard for grammar? If you answered yes for these, then it’s time to forget everything you thought you knew about parentese and learn the right way.

It’s never too early to start speaking to your little one. Studies on baby talk have proven that this type of communication in fact boosts the infants brain development. It teaches them about voices, sounds, and words. It is this ‘baby talk’ that teaches them how to communicate.

What is Parentese? 

“It’s not about what you say, but rather how you say it”.

Parentese is a type of speech where an adult talks to a child using real words and correct grammar but in an exaggerated and repetitive way with a slower tempo.

Why not just talk normally?

Babies love to listen to the voices of familiar people. They ‘tune-in’ to what they hear and get especially excited when they are spoken to in fun and interesting ways.

Studies have shown that when an infant listens to speech, the auditory cortex (listening part of the brain) and the motor cortex (speaking part of the brain) light up, showing that they are getting ready to talk back.

This shows us how parentese is not only helpful for listening, but for talking too. It shows us just how important parentese is for language skills development.

How do I talk in parentese?

Parentese can be used in any context that provides opportunity for communication. From bath time to mealtime and all the in-betweens.

  • Make sure that your child is in a position where you can easily look at each other.
  • Start by saying anything that captures your infant’s attention (for example: “How is [child’s name] today?”).
  • During mealtime, you can say something like, “It’s time for [child’s name] to eat. Are you hungry?”
  • Follow your child’s lead. Watch for signs or signals that tell you your infant hears or is paying attention to your voice. Some infants get “bright-eyed.” Others wiggle with excitement.
  • Do not use dumbed down words e.g. “bo bo” instead of bottle. By using the right words for objects, your child will learn vocabulary.

Remember the following:

  1. Increase your pitch
  2. Use exaggerated sounds
  3. Speak slowly with more pauses
  4. Use facial expressions
  5. Use simple words
  6. Speak in a sing – song voice
  7. Use repetition

It is important to remember that your baby does not need to understand what you are saying. The main idea is to get them involved in the conversation.

How do I know parentese is working?

  • My baby pays close attention to my face and mouth.
  • My baby knows the difference between adult speech and “baby talk”.
  • My baby is more excited and interactive when I use baby talk.

What happens if I do not use parentese?

Researchers from the University of Washington have performed comparative studies on children who were spoken to in parentese and children who were spoken to in a typical adult voice.

By the age of 18 months, the children that were spoken to in parentese were at about a 100-word level whereas the children who were spoken to in a typical voice were at a 60-word level.

This is just one of the many studies that prove that parentese works! By engaging your child, they will ultimately grow their vocabulary better.

What to look out for from birth to 6 months and when to call your Speech Therapist?

If you answer ‘no’ to any of these, it might be a good idea to consult your speech therapist for an evaluation:

  • Does my child respond to my voice and other sounds?
  • Does my child make eye contact during conversation?
  • Does my child make sounds such as vowel sounds,  squeals and growls?
  • Does my child take turns with me? E.g. I talk and he/she makes a sound/ laughs?
  • Does my child try to imitate my expressions and sounds?

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