When our boys were babies we spent a lot of time talking to them. They all started repeating nursery rhymes as they reached 16 months of age. Parents who ‘had a nightmare’ with a frustrated first child unable to communicate can benefit from Parentese when it comes to number two.
Talking to babies is boring
I felt this myself when I had my daughter. I thought I could wait until she understood me. The odd piece of chatter to her for my own sanity but on many other occasions I was silent. Then I learnt about language development. I want to share what I have picked up.
Baby is trapped
Imagine being trapped in that little body, hearing others using sounds that make no sense. Then you start to work out that certain sounds result in actions. It may start with crying means you get food or a cuddle. Later a smile means you get attention. Then you start using the noises yourself. Your sounds make sense to you but your adults seem to struggle with what you mean. Eventually you work out how to frame your mouth, use the air and make the right sounds to be understood…you have learnt language.
Without a little help on the journey it can take a lot longer than needed.
Speeding up speech
We can help by
- Using parentese
- Recognising proto language from noise
What is parentese
Parentese is using phrases and sentences in a simpler form and giving rich and clear cadence to the words used. The final piece of the puzzle? Do it with eye to eye contact with the baby as much as possible.
Most parents naturally speak to babies using up and down tones but Parentese is a little more than that. It is not the use of silly words like ‘ whose cutche cutchee bubsy then’. Worse still is ‘ cuttchy, coochy coo , doo doo da’. Making a mess of words does not help babies learn language but the singy songy style of simpler sentences certainly does.
A study at Washington University explains this a bit more https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/02/200203151158.htm
In time baby will make rhythmic sounds back. After a little longer s/he will chatter – or babble -away whether being spoken to. Babbling is not related to words we can apply in the real world.
Baby speaks at last
Baby starts using Protowords. These are ‘almost words’ . They tend to have two parts like Da+da and Ma+ma. More parts ( or syllables) would be too tough. Lucky for me I thought ..Nana is nice and simple. Other two or one syllable words may come. My daughter’s first word was ‘ UP UP ‘ with her hands held high. Then came ‘Nana’… not meaning Nanny (sadly for my Mum) but Banana. Now she was close to full speech. Her new words will start to refer to the same object or person each time she uses them. From here full language is only a matter of practice.
- Practice explaining what you are doing in very simple phrases
- Speak to your baby as if s/he understands
- Use up and down sounds as if you are singing the words
- Give eye to eye contact as much as you can
- Congratulate your baby when sounds are returned.
- Once Protowords are used add many new simple words to your conversations
- Read about it https://parentingliteracy.com/infant-language-development/