Is your baby influencing the way you speak?

Posted on September 11th, 2019

New research has found that conversations with your baby are more sophisticated than you might think. By Kim Bell

Is your baby influencing the way you speak?

For years, it has been believed and perceived that how you talk to your baby and the language you use, influences your baby’s speech patterns. New research has found that your baby’s interaction with you, and her babbling, may in fact, be influencing you, as her behaviour changes your own.

ALSO SEE: How to develop your baby’s language skills

What the research found

Rachel R. Albert, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Lebanon Valley College, Annville Pennsylvania, and her colleagues, Michael Goldstein and Jennifer Schwade of Cornell University, recently conducted research that proves that conversations with your little one are more sophisticated than originally thought.

Albert explains that your response to your baby takes on new significance around six months of age when your baby’s babblings start maturing. “Around this time, babies become incredibly receptive to what they hear immediately after they babble.

In fact, work out of the Behavioural Analysis of Beginning Years (B.A.B.Y) Lab at Cornell University suggests that if your little one receives a response to their initial vocalisation, they’re far more likely to vocalise again.”

The research has found that you adapt the way you converse when talking to your baby. When interacting, you tend to use fewer “unique” words, shorter sentences and tend to give more one-word answers when responding to your child. (You may find yourself continuing to talk to adults this way,too!!)

Steven Elmlinger, lead author of The Ecology of Prelinguistic Vocal Learning: Parents Simplify the Structure of Their Speech in Response to Babbling, explains: “Infants are actually shaping their own learning environments in ways that make learning easier to do.”

He adds that we already know that a parents’ speech influences how babies learn. “But what hasn’t been studied is the link between how infants can change the parents, or just change the learning environment as a whole.”

ALSO SEE: Singing is a better soothing strategy for baby than talking

Conversation starter or partner?

Now, the latest studies, conducted by Albert and her peers, has uncovered that babies have influence as a “conversation partner”.

In fact, the researchers say, from between the ages of 6 and 9 months old, your little one actually leads and directs you in the conversation – rather than the other way around.

Albert explains: “When a mother hears her child say ‘ba’ when holding or pointing at a ball, she will most likely respond with, ‘Yes, that’s right: ball!’. Coincidentally, babies are also highly receptive to their mother’s response to an object-directed vocalisation.

So, when children make one of these object-directed vocalisations, they’re structuring the interaction with their parent in a way that facilitates their learning of the object’s name.”

Goldstein adds that the important takeaway is that babbling is a catalyst – your baby’s way of eliciting more information from the adults around her.  Now there’s a conversation starter!

Kim Bell

About Kim Bell

Kim Bell is a wife, mother of two teenagers and a lover of research and the way words flow and meld together. She has been in the media industry for over 20 years, and yet still learns more about life from her children everyday.