Get Baby Talk Right with Parentese
Acey Holmes, MS, CCC-SLP is a pediatric speech pathologist passionate about play for all children and families. She is the founder/owner of Solve Learn Play, a company dedicated to partnering with toy inventors, game makers, and app developers to modify and improve their creations so all children (including those with speech-language disorders) can be successful with their products. She has a Masters in Communication Sciences and Disorders and is licensed to practice in Colorado, which she does full-time via teletherapy currently. As a Genius of Play Ambassador, her goal is to spread the good news of play all over the globe.
Parentese can be incorporated into any activity:
- Folding laundry
- Sharing a meal
- Changing a dirty diaper
- Getting dressed
- Taking a bath
- When doing nothing at all
Awwwwww, wook at da widdle, iddy-biddy, pweshus baaaaabeeeeeeeee.
Baby talk. It can be so annoying, right? What is it about our tiny, adorable bundles of joy that turn us into mushy, silly babblers? Almost all of us do it when we see any baby (or puppy, kitten, or even a sloth for that matter).
Did you know there’s a right way to baby talk? The preferred professional term is “parentese” (made more inclusive in the mid-2000s from the previously used “motherese”).
Communication is key to developing your child’s language skills. Language development starts with sounds and gestures, then words and sentences. You can encourage language development at an early age by simply talking a lot with your baby, and then responding when your baby “responds” back.
Another benefit of proper communication with your young one? Quality conversation — including this “baby-talk” — is an early form of play! Do you sometimes struggle with “how” to play with your baby? You’ll be happy to hear that just talking to them (following these guidelines!) is a great way to play! Turn-taking is a crucial skill for participating in society as a child and adult. Play and this type of communication with your baby is a great way for you to help them build this skill, among others.
The benefits of parentese are well proven. The speaking style is nearly universal, used in almost all languages by parents naturally (including signed languages). Key benefits include increased vocabulary as early as 14 months, easy and significant parent-child bonding, strengthened emotional development, and overall improved communication.
Parentese isn’t hard to master, but there are some valuable guidelines to follow:
- The main goal is to expose your baby to short, simple – but grammatically correct — sentences using actual words. Note the differences in the examples below:
Vary your pitch from low to high gently in a sing-song manner.
Avoid adding sounds to consonants, such as “cup-uh.” Speak slowly with slightly exaggerated vowels. Vowels are easiest to elongate to make your speech have the sing-song quality.
Use “acoustic highlighting.” Highlighting key words increases the brain’s response to new vocabulary. Say the important content words just a little more loudly than the others.
Make it a conversation! Providing pauses gives your baby a “turn to talk” and to learn what a conversation feels and looks/sounds like. This turn can be eye contact, a gurgle, or change in facial expression.
- Bebe wanna nana for eat eat?
- Sophia, do you want a banana?
- Oh wook at dem widdle bwoo sockywockys!
- Look at your tiny blue socks! They are so cute!
Engaging in conversation with your baby using parentese is a great way to support your relationship with your baby while setting them up for communication success.