Is baby talk good or bad? 4 tips to help your baby ease from baby talk into proper talk!
Kuchikuchikuchi! Bababababa! Ha-woahhh widdle wun!
Ah, good old baby talk. Grandmas, Aunties, and Mums are probably the ones who do most of this sort of cuddly-wuddly chit-chat with their tiniest family members - but it noticeably disappears once children start talking back in grown-up language.
The great debate about baby talk
There is a long standing hot debate about whether baby talk is helpful, or whether it is better to talk in ‘proper’ English from when this new little human being comes into your family.
Some claim it is better to leave out the baby talk altogether, as it delays a child’s ability to pick up correct structures. Others believe, as I do, that ‘baby talk’ is a very natural instinctive way for parents – and mums in particular - to relate to their little ones, and in the process, help babies to practice the complex coordinating required for making speech sound sequences.
Other research has shown how, even at a couple of months of age, babies can have a ‘conversation’ with their parent, using just gurgles, sounds and facial expressions, where the baby responds by copying the mother’s sounds and gestures. When Mum/Dad does what baby does, baby shows recognition and eagerness to prolong the interaction. This is of course, the foundation for future conversations, and therefore profound.
We know that babies learn to talk by practicing the sounds of the language they hear most, and by 8 months, babies will filter out sounds that are not in their own home language, to concentrate on learning how to coordinate their jaw, tongue, lips and face to say strings of babble, in the sounds they need.
The importance of face to face talk time with your baby
Have you heard an18-month old toddler talk into a shoe or banana as though it is a phone, with no words, but just the tune and intonation of a whole conversation? My daughter used to do that!
When we use baby talk, with its repetition of sounds and lots of similar vowels, we are helping our children to practice their talking. Give them a chance to respond – it will really make you laugh! And wonder at the way they reply to you.
BUT it is also important to talk in clear simple sentences, using words that are familiar, naming things and actions. Why do most Mums lament to me that their children’s first word tends to be ‘Dada!’? Well, I think that is a word that babies so often hear their Mums say – ‘Oh look, Dada’s coming!’ ‘Say hello to Dada!’ It’s often less frequently that a baby hears people say to him or her – ‘Hey, Mama’s here!’
What to expect at the one year mark:
By about one year, a baby has acquired a clear foundation for his or her language, in the widest sense, using gesture, facial expression, sounds, and around 5 ‘words’.
And as you start to move through the first year, it’s amazing how well you can understand one word from your Baby so precisely. By your child’s intonation, facial expression and gesture, they can tell you so many things – ‘Dada!’ meaning, ‘Dada has ice-cream for me!’ or ‘Dada isn’t here,’ or he can ask ‘Dada?’ meaning ‘Is Dada coming/ going?’ or ‘Where is Dada?’ or ‘What’s Dada doing?’
Don’t worry too much if those words may not be ones adults normally recognise as words – this is all part of the process. Their language they might be: ‘Doh!’ for all animals, or ‘Mummm’ for food, ‘Booh’ for drink, and ‘Brrrmbrrm’ for vehicles. And note – these are all simple words that we understand from the context – your child has made his own different word boxes into which to put the all the other words that belong to those boxes. As they grow they will develop and replace these words with ‘proper’ ones, especially as they interact with other children and adults.
Finally, here are three ways to give your baby a head start in learning to talk in their first year and beyond:
1. Spend time ‘eyeball to eyeball’ with your baby!
Copy your baby’s sounds and babble – and copy back to them what they say. Watch their reactions! Have your own little conversation with them regularly and happily.
2. See what your baby sees, look through their eyes:
Name the things around them clearly, hold things close to your face and get them to look at you when you name the things, then talk about it. ‘Look, shoe! Here’s your shoe, I’ll put it on your foot!’
3. Point things far away out to your child, and talk about them...
...like birds, aeroplanes, trees, and talk about them.
Listen to sounds and get your baby to find where and what they come from.
4. Read with your baby – right from when they are very tiny!
Babies benefit from hearing stories and rhymes and looking at pictures – and we are so fortunate now, to have so many wonderful books of all sorts for children! The easiest and cheapest is, of course, your imagination. But I love it that there are a variety of books that also look at Islam and the stories of our great history for small children. This brings it all to life for them!
I trust these little pointers will help in your journey with your baby, and look forward to hearing stories from you! Do you have any other tips that work well too? I’d love to hear.
As a little personal extra, here’s a lovely, rather historic photo of my brother circa ~1953, while we were still living in India: he was intent on reading, even though he couldn’t actually read at that stage and had the book upside down! Encourage your children to have a love for books too and don't worry if they can't actually read or do it wrong. The very intention to interact with books and words is positive!
Further, here are a couple of related articles I enjoyed reading, if you are keen to learn more about baby talk in the first year:
Interaction during reading is key to language development
UI study finds how caregivers respond to the sounds babies make during book reading could be link to language development in young children
Parents, listen next time your baby babbles!
University of Iowa study finds how parents respond to their infant's babbling can speed the child's language development:
If you are spiritually inclined towards Islam, here are some authors who have recently brought out wonderful books for children to enrich them in the faith in a fun way:
A gorgeous range of children’s books, including “A Whale of a Wish”:
A fun set of simple, easy to read children’s books:
All the best,