LOS ANGELES, Calif. — For American parents raising a bilingual child, it turns out even infants have a preference in what language they like to hear. A study finds babies love listening to “baby talk,” especially if it’s in English.
Researchers from UCLA say the sing-song voice can help a child learn any language and is more effective than regular speech in terms of holding an infant’s attention. Some parents worry their child may be confused if they grow up juggling two languages. However, study authors find infants can develop their language skills faster if their parents use what they call “child-directed speech.”
Baby talk is slower, more repetitive, and more melodic than when one adult talks to another. The study finds it’s also more effective at language teaching than regular speech.
Previous studies have discovered child-directed speech is also important for emotional bonding. Children who receive the most acknowledgement and encouragement of what they say, even if it’s babbling, tend to learn faster.
Even non-English speaking babies prefer English?
An international study on four continents observed 333 bilingual babies and 384 monolingual babies during their study. The infants ranged in age from six to nine month to 12-15 months-old. Each baby would sit on a parent’s lap while recordings of an English-speaking mother, using either infant-directed speech or adult-directed speech, played from speakers on the left or the right.
Computer tracking software measured how long each baby looked in the direction of each sound. Results show infants appear more interested in English baby talk, even if they’ve never had exposure to the language before.
Dr. Megha Sundara says most languages and cultures use some form of baby talk, but English has one of the most exaggerated forms.
“Baby talk has a slower rate of speech across all languages, with more variable pitch, and it’s more animated and happy,” the UCLA professor of linguistics says in a university release. “It varies mainly in how exaggerated it is.”
“When you do language research, you want to know that the results aren’t just some quirk of the language you’re studying.”
UCLA’s Dr. Victoria Mateu adds the more English bilingual babies hear, the stronger their preference for infant-directed speech becomes. Even babies from non-English speaking homes seem to prefer English baby talk over grown-up talk.
“We suspect that perhaps the mothers with higher education levels spoke more to the babies and used infant-directed speech more often,” concludes Mateu, an assistant professor of Spanish and Portuguese.
The findings appear in the journal Advances in Methods and Practices in Psychological Science.
SWNS writer Joe Morgan contributed to this report.