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I have heard both that 'baby talking' in response to a child's babble is productive, and that 'baby talking' is counter-productive and can impede language development. Any thoughts?

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It never occured to me to use baby talk towards my son -- I started speaking my normal language from the day he was born (in fact, even before he was born). I don't feel creative enough for baby talk and it made more sense to me to talk as I would to any older child. Real words, and short but complete sentences. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Mar 31 '11 at 8:00
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Here's one downside to baby talk. We had a 3 year old when we had our second baby. Kids in the 2-4 year old range pick up on everything, so our 3 year old used exaggerated baby talk when talking to our baby. It got annoying very quick, and a lot of people noticed how our 3 year old spoke to our baby. That quickly decreased the amount we "baby-talked" to our baby - not for the sake of the baby (which your question is directed at), but for the sake of the older sibling... –  BrianH Mar 31 '11 at 16:54
    
link to baby talk wikipedia article : en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baby_talk –  Orbit Mar 31 '11 at 18:47
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6 Answers

My wife has banned me from doing "baby talk", and I tell you what - it's really, really, really hard to stop doing it. She doesn't even want me using a different tone of voice when I speak to our child.

I try my best, simply because she's the boss, but I have serious doubts about its impact, and even if it does have an impact, why do we care?

I'm sure most of our parents used baby talk with us, and (most) of us speak perfectly well.

Even if it does have detrimental effects to how quickly they learn language, why do we care? I think we're all far too focussed on giving our kids the biggest head start in life that we can simply because we "don't want them to get left behind".

But right now, the huge smile and giggles I can get out of my child is far, far more important to me than making sure that they can say big words sooner than the other kids. And if baby talk gets me those smiles, then so be it.

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Any positive interaction is productive. I suppose if all a baby ever heard was baby-talk, there might be a problem. But that's not the case. Babies hear adults talk to each other, and they listen.

If you have fun and your baby has fun when you use baby talk, then do it. They don't stay babies forever, so enjoy that time while you have it.

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Baby talk, when used correctly is beneficial to speech development.

  • For infants not yet using speech at all, use exaggerated changes in pitch and tone to help them learn the rhythm of speech and the difference between tones of voice. Make games of mimicking different sounds for one another (this helps your child learn phonemes in the language(s) spoken at home).

  • For little ones just beginning to string together syllables, you don't need the sing-song voice used with infants, but you should still over-emphasize changes in tone so they can easily catch on. Meanwhile, don't use made-up words, but do vary your pitch -- remember, until your child starts to consistently use words to represent things or actions, he/she hasn't grasped what words are, and needs whatever you can do to make them interesting.

  • Once your child routinely uses words to influence their world ("more", "drink", "cookie", "please", "ride", "no"), it's time to speak in normal tones. Now words have intrinsic value to your child, and there's no need for games.

  • Don't use made-up words or broken grammar at any point in your child's speech development ... if he/she is going to go to the effort of learning something, it may as well be useful rather than something to be later un-learned.

  • Do correct errors when they crop up, don't let them become habit.

Baby talk often becomes a problem because parents use made-up words, don't phase it out when the child begins to develop speech ability, or think that the errors in pronunciation, enunciation, or grammar their children make are cute and do not correct them.

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I'd +2 this if I could. This mirrors exactly what we've heard from a handfull of doctors and speech pathologists. It's beneficial up to a point, then it becomes a detriment. (So technically, BOTH of the answers Orbit asks about are correct... they're incomplete in that they don't address the "when" part of the equation, which is where the confusion comes in.) –  cabbey Mar 31 '11 at 4:59
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I know of no firm evidence indicating that baby talk is either helpful or detrimental in language development. From my own experience, however, I can say that infants learn from facial expressions and tone of voice as much as they do from words. They are learning these things long before they can imitate them.

Infants can detect differences in volume and tone earlier than they can discern words, especially when volume and tone are exaggerated (as in baby talk). I see no problem with it and have encountered no problems with it so far with my children.

However, baby talk is not the only form of communication we use with our children. While it gets the best reactions early on, we also talk to, sing to, and sign to our children at a very young age--younger than they can understand or mimic. As they grow older we adapt our communication to their maturity level, eventually cutting out the baby talk. This worked wonderfully for our first child, although it's too early to tell whether this is because of our method or whether we just got lucky with a bright kid!

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+1 for "infants learn from facial expressions and tone of voice as much as they do from words." –  Marie Hendrix Jul 29 '11 at 19:42
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There is some research to support baby talk for babies, at least:

http://www.cmu.edu/PR/releases05/050315_babytalk.html

Adults may feel silly when they talk to babies, but those babies will learn to speak sooner if adults talk to them like infants instead of like other adults, according to a study by Carnegie Mellon University Psychology Professor Erik Thiessen published in the March issue of the journal Infancy.

Most adults speak to infants using so-called infant-directed speech: short, simple sentences coupled with higher pitch and exaggerated intonation. Researchers have long known that babies prefer to be spoken to in this manner. But Thiessen's research has revealed that infant-directed speech also helps infants learn words more quickly than normal adult speech. In a series of experiments, he and his colleagues exposed 8-month-old infants to fluent speech made up of nonsense words. The researchers assessed whether, after listening to the fluent speech for less than two minutes, infants had been able to learn the words. The infants who were exposed to fluent speech with the exaggerated intonation contour characteristic of infant-directed speech learned to identify the words more quickly than infants who heard fluent speech spoken in a more monotone fashion.

PDF of the research study, "Infant-Directed Speech Facilitates Word Segmentation"

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I often say, "Baby talk is fine as long as baby doesn't talk!" Research indicates that baby talk with exaggerated intonation and facial expression is beneficial to infants and children with normal and delayed speech development. The key is to stay one step ahead of baby! In other words, model just one step above your child's level. If no babbling or words, use sing-song, repetitive utterances with exaggerated facial expression to keep the child's interest and allow the child to hear the rhythm and patterns of speech. Once the child is babbling, emphasize single easy to say words frequently. When the child is using single words, up your words to 2-3 word phrases to model for them where they will be moving to next. The challenge for us parents and caregivers is to keep moving and stay only one step ahead of baby!!!

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+1 for staying one step ahead of the baby's skills. When you say research indicates... could you please add a link or a reference so it doesn't look like an empty phrase? –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jul 26 '11 at 5:48
    
Here is a parent friendly resource that reports on the benefits of "motherese" or "baby talk". www.pbs.org/wnet/brain/episode2/babytalk/ I'm still learning the ropes. I will provide references in the future. :-) –  Marie Hendrix Jul 27 '11 at 0:46
    
Here is another maybe not so user friendly but very informative research! teechconsult.typepad.com/kids/2010/08/… There are many many others, but this gives you a good start on the subject. –  Marie Hendrix Jul 27 '11 at 0:52
    
You only need to provide references when you mention research. If it's personal experience then of course just state that instead. One more tip: You can click the edit link under your answer to update it. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jul 27 '11 at 5:33
    
@TorbenGB Thanks again for your help. I appreciate the tips! –  Marie Hendrix Jul 29 '11 at 0:14
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