‘Baby Talk’ Is Really Helping Baby Learn

You may feel silly doing it, but baby talk helps your infant learn the basics of human language, a new study suggests.

By mimicking the sound of a smaller vocal tract, baby talk guides babies on how words should sound coming out of their own mouths, the researchers explained.

“It seems to stimulate motor production of speech, not just the perception of speech,” said study author Matthew Masapollo, an assistant professor in the University of Florida’s Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences.

“It’s not just goo-goo ga-ga,” he said in a university news release.

In this study, Masapollo and his colleagues changed the frequency of sounds to mimic either an infant or adult vocal tract, and assessed infants’ reactions.

Babies who were 6 to 8 months old “displayed a robust and distinct preference for speech with resonances specifying a vocal tract that is similar in size and length to their own,” the study authors wrote.

However, 4- to 6-month-old babies didn’t have that preference. It may be that older babies’ emerging ability to control their voices and produce words out of babble makes the infant-like sounds more appealing to them, the researchers suggested.

The study was published Dec. 10 in the Journal of Speech, Language and Hearing Research.

Baby talk may sound simple but it is accomplishing a lot, according to study co-author Linda Polka, from McGill University in Montreal.

“We’re trying to engage with the infant to show them something about speech production,” Polka said in the release. “We’re priming them to process their own voice.”

While parents are sometimes discouraged from engaging in baby talk, this research shows the patterns associated with such talk could play an important role in helping infants develop speech.

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics has more on infant language development.

SOURCE: University of Florida, news release, Dec. 10, 2021