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Baby Talk Actually Helps Infants Form Their First Words, Study Says

In the past, parents have sometimes been discouraged from using baby talk, but this study proves it can actually help promote speech development.
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By Nehal Aggarwal, Editor
Published December 19, 2021
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Experts have long looked into how baby talk can help promote speech in infants, and it’s widely accepted that baby talk helps teach babies how to talk themselves. Adults instinctively use higher pitch, slow speed and exaggerated pronunciation—also known as parentese—when talking to babies. Now new research from the University of Florida is adding to the evidence that baby talk helps younger infants—less than a year old—produce their own speech.

According to the study, adults imitate the sounds of a smaller vocal tract when using baby talk, and this helps infants understand how they themselves should sound when they talk. The researchers looked at frequency sounds that either sounded like an infant or an adult vocal tract and then analyzed how the babies reacted to each. The sample size was small, as the researchers observed only 65 infants. However, they found that babies aged 4 to 6 months didn’t have much of a preference, but babies aged 6 to 8 months strongly preferred the vocal tract that sounded similar to their own. Researchers believe this could be because older babies are better able to control their voices and more likely to try to form words out of babble.

These results indicate that baby talk and parentese are valuable, as they help cognitively “stimulate motor production of speech, not just the perception of speech," Matthew Masapollo, PhD, director of the UF laboratory for the study of cognition, action, and perception of speech, said in a press release.

Coauthor Linda Polk, PhD, of McGill University, agrees, saying that baby talk helps “prime [babies] to process their own voice.”

In the past, parents have sometimes been discouraged from using baby talk, but both authors believe that it could help babies form their first words. If you’re looking forward to hearing your little one’s first words and trying help them along, check out our tips on how you perfect your baby talk and a timeline of when babies start talking.

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