It might just be considered a natural reflex, but when we see a baby, so many of us naturally find ourselves talking in that high-pitched, sing-songy sort of voice with extended vowels. However, researchers suggest that simple “baby talk,” which elongates unnecessary words into simple sentences isn’t as productive as speaking “parentese,” which as amped up adult speech can actually benefit a baby’s cognitive development.
According to a study from the University of Washington, babies enjoy listening to parentese and pay further attention to it over baby talk. As if that was a major development in amplifying communication with your baby, the study goes on to suggest the prevalence of parentese aids in your baby’s development of language, while boosting brainpower and emotional development.
So what the heck is ‘parentese’ and how do you speak it? Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University describe parentese as “short, simple sentences coupled with higher pitch and exaggerated intonation.” While many adults might feel silly using infant-directed speech with such a tone that stretches vowels, it’s far more beneficial than simple baby talk that uses sounds and nonsense words. Parentese shies away from the theatrics of languages by using actual vocabulary and simple sentences that are repeated over and over for the child to understand meaning and context better. Injecting interest and emphasis for a more exciting, funny and understandable dialogue, parentese focuses on pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary like when speaking to an adult.
Dr. Dana Suskind tells Chicago Magazine to keep the three T’s in mind when speaking parentese, which are tune in, talk more and take turns. By having conversations with your baby from day one, you’re helping enhance their vocabulary by keeping them engaged to have real-world conversations.
“Their response can be not just real words, but gurgles, eye contact,” she says. “All these nonverbal cues are conversations.
Encourages language development
At first glance, parentese might seem like baby talk, but an international study found parentese is a positive pathway for infants to learn language. By elongating vowels, using a high pitch and exaggerating facial expressions, infants often pick up words faster as their brains begin to “map” the sounds they hear from talking in a way that garners their attention. Moreover, the slow tempo you speak in lets your baby distinguish between words and pitch, as tone helps them understand the emotional content of language. Subsequently, this helps them to speak quicker and improve the communication experience between parent and child. When chatting, be descriptive and use full sentences too like “Do you want milk?” rather than, “Milk?”
By now, we all know the true value of good communication, but it matters so much more for your baby in the early days of their infancy as it helps them develop their brain. According to NYC Health’s Talk to Your Baby, a baby’s brain will triple in size during the first three years of their life. That means, every interaction they make with you and the world is a key to boosting brainpower. Not only does the slow, exaggerated sounds of parentese hold their attention, but it gives them clues on how to breakdown sentences, while building their vocabulary. When you begin to talk to your baby with parentese, you’re building roots in their brain function that will support reading and thinking for the future.
Because your baby’s hearing starts developing while still in the womb, it’s important to talk to your baby always in a happy tone of excitement and wonder. A division of the American Pediatrics Association suggests that infants can tell the difference between your voice and another adult’s from the time they’re newborns, so it is essential to always speak to them often and connect right from the start. When you respond to your baby’s coos or gurgles with a “Is that right?” you’re strengthening your own core relationship by showing them they are recognized and heard. In other words, treat them like a real little person even if they can’t talk back just yet.
When babies are born, they have a natural and beautiful wonder for a lot of things — especially your voice that will communicate strong emotion. Through speaking in a soft, delicate tone, they will likely respond with a valid reply of emotion that proves for effective communication, like when they stop crying because you are there to comfort them. Speaking parentese lets your child know that they are worth your attention. Not only does this help promote a healthy sense of confidence and self-worth stemmed from infancy, but it lets them know you are always their number one priority.