‘Parentese’ is good for babies' language development, study finds

Parentese could help babies development [Photo: Getty]
Parentese could help babies development [Photo: Getty]

Forget the baby talk, infants who are spoken to in ‘parentese’ know 40 more words than their peers by the time they are 18 months old, researchers has revealed.

While parents might feel self-conscious talking to little ones in a silly voice, new research has suggested it could actually aid their development.

Yep, swapping the ‘goo goo ga ga’ babble for exaggerated sounds and simplified grammar while talking to babies could help them to learn.

Unlike non sensical baby talk, parentese involves parents using real words with elongated vowels at a higher pitch, in a happy and engaged tone, and a new study has revealed it can be more effective.

Researchers from the University of Washington enlisted 79 families, of which 48 were randomly selected to be taught how to use parentese, while the others remained as a control group.

The youngsters and parents were recorded interacting over four weekends when the babies were aged six, 10, 14 and 18 months.

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The findings, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, revealed that between 14 and 18 months, the children of coached parents used real words, such as ‘banana’ and ‘milk’, with twice the frequency as parents in the control group.

Additionally children in the coached group had a vocabulary of around 100 words by the age of 18 months compared to around 60 words among the families who didn’t receive coaching.

“We’ve known for some time that the use of parentese is associated with improved language outcomes,” said Dr Patricia Kuhl, Professor of Speech and Hearing Sciences at the University of Washington.

“But we didn’t know why. We believe parentese makes language learning easier because of its simpler linguistic structure and exaggerated sounds. But this new work suggests a more fundamental reason.

“We now think parentese works because it's a social hook for the baby brain - its high pitch and slower tempo are socially engaging and invite the baby to respond.”

READ MORE: Babies understand counting long before they can say numbers

Swapping baby talk for parentese could help babies language skills [Photo: Getty]
Swapping baby talk for parentese could help babies language skills [Photo: Getty]

Though all participants in the study already used some kind of parentese, many parents only spoke it to their children on occasion, but using the practice more often seemed to have an impact on children’s language learning.

Those in the coaching group also learned more about the cognitive and social benefits of parentese and the positive effects that parentese could have on their child's language development.

“We know that language skills in infancy predict subsequent stages in language development, so enhancements in language behaviors in infancy could therefore have cascading effects on speech development over time,” lead author Dr Naja Ferjan Ramírez, Assistant Professor of Linguistics at Washington told the Telegraph.

“We had no idea that parents would respond so positively to information about how their own speech to the child affects the child's language development.”