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Health blog

Baby Talk

Baby Talk

Babies love to “talk” and parents love to talk back. Long before babies can speak clearly, they understand the general meaning of what you're saying. They also absorb emotional tone. It’s easy to encourage your baby's communication skills. All you need do is smile, talk, sing, and read to your baby. Why is this so important? Because early speech and language skills are associated with success in developing reading, writing, and interpersonal skills, both later in childhood and later in life.

Smile and Talk Back
Smile often at your baby, especially when she is cooing, gurgling, or vocalizing in baby talk. Be sure to look at your baby when he babbles and laughs, rather than looking away or talking with someone else. This lets the baby know he is important to you, and that what he feels and needs matters to you. Try to decipher your baby’s vocal and non-vocal communications, including facial expressions and gestures. These can signal joy, frustration, pain, or comfort. Find the time to give your baby the time and loving attention she needs, no matter how busy you are.

Communication is a two-way street. By talking back, you show your baby how to carry on a give-and-talk conversation. Imitate the vocalizations of young babies. If she says, “ba-ba” or “goo-goo,” repeat it back and wait for the next sound. Respond even when you don’t understand what your baby is trying to say. Reinforce communication by smiling and mirroring facial expressions and gestures—which are also part of communication. Babies love to hear you talk, especially to them, and especially in a warm, happy voice.

Babies learn to speak by imitating the sounds they hear around them. So the more you talk to your baby, the faster he will acquire speech and language skills. Engage your baby's listening skills by talking often to him throughout the day, narrating your activities together. Talk as you're feeding, dressing, carrying, and bathing your baby, so she begins to associate these sounds of language with everyday objects and activities.

Parent Talk
See a baby and you may start talking in a high-pitched tone and stretching out your vowels. “Whoose a prettyy baybeee?” Experts call this musical way of talking “parentese” and say it has true value. Parentese helps parents and caregivers connect to their babies and helps babies develop language skills. The sing-song style of speech, often accompanied by exaggerated facial expressions, seems to be used by almost everyone who talks to a baby. Parentese is not merely an English-speaking practice. Mothers, fathers, grandparents, friends, and older siblings everywhere do it.

Parentese delights babies. Research shows that infants actually prefer it to adult speech, probably because it mimics the female voice, which babies the world over associate with feeding and comfort. Babies not only enjoy the high-pitched sounds, they also like watching our faces as we talk to them. The elongated vowels, high pitch, exaggerated facial expressions and short, simple sentences of parentese actually help infants learn language. We tend to pronounce words precisely when we talk to babies — pulling out the vowel sounds and clearly voicing consonants. A “sweet baby” becomes “sweeet baybeee.” Move in close so your baby can see your eyes widen and your lips move.

Gender Differences in Communication
The journal Pediatrics published a new study in December about gender differences in parent-infant communication. Not surprisingly, infants are exposed more often to female speech than to male speech in their early months. Also not surprisingly, females respond more frequently to their infants’ vocalizations than do males. Babies responded more readily to the female adult voice than to the adult male voice. The study also showed that mothers responded preferentially to female infants, while fathers responded preferentially to male infants.

Communicating with your baby from birth through three years old is directly related to his intelligence and academic achievements. Parental communication has more influence over an infant’s future success than does education or socioeconomic status. Remember, it’s never too early to start reading to your infant. Being read to helps stimulate the developing brain. Many babies are soothed by the rhythm of poetry and music. They often recognize simple songs by reacting with smiles, gurgles, and waving arms and legs. Babies also love games and songs with words, such as “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “Patty-Cake.” Watching your baby learn to talk is one of the greatest joys of parenthood.


1. Child Development: Speak Parentese, Not Baby Talk. PBS Parents.
2. Baby Talk: Communicating With Your Baby. WebMD.
3. Johnson K, Caskey M, Band K, et al. Gender Differences in Adult-Infant Communication in the First Months of Life. Pediatrics. 2014. 134(6): 1-8.
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