Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Infant Babbling...It's Not Just Baby Talk

Is trying to understand your infant’s babbling an effort in futility? Turns out, the answer might be, “no.” A new study published in the journal Infancy puts into question the notion that children’s language development is innate and we cannot do much to alter its path. 

The researchers closely observed interactions between mothers and their 8-month old infants over the course of six months. What they found was that among children whose mothers responded to them by trying to understand what they were saying, they developed more advanced language sounds sooner. Children whose mothers responding by directing the child’s attention to something else, developed language sounds more slowly.

It’s important to note in this study that all the mothers responded to their infants’ babbling, but it’s a difference in how they responded that seems to make the difference. The mothers who actively engaged with their child’s babbling and responded to what they thought they were saying seem to promote the child’s learning to communicate. For these children, by 15 months of age, they had more words and gestures compared to the other babies.

What the researchers believe is happening is that, by responding to the infant’s communication, the mothers are reinforcing within the child that he or she can communicate. Over time, they learn more and more how to refine that communication with constant-vowel sounds which are the beginnings of word formation.

Once again this reiterates the importance of parent-child interactions at the most in-depth level. All that babbling your infant does really is the beginning stages of learning to speak. By responding to your child as if you know what they are saying is just one step along path of them learning language.
Julie Gros-Louis, Meredith J. West, Andrew P. King. (2014). Maternal Responsiveness and the Development of Directed Vocalizing in Social Interactions Infancy, 19 (4)

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