Baby Talk? For Children’s Learning, You Might Want To

baby talk

Whether it’s baby talk, singing while changing a diaper, describing the food during meal time, or just plain chatter, parents and caregivers who talk to their infants can make a real difference for their children.

The insights come from a research paper published last month in Pediatrics, titled “Language Experience in the Second Year of Life and Language Outcomes in Late Childhood.”

In considering the study, the authors note that “quantity of talk and interaction in the home during early childhood is correlated with socioeconomic status (SES) and can be used to predict early language and cognitive outcomes.” As a result, the “tested the effectiveness of automated early language environment estimates for children 2 to 36 months old to predict cognitive and language skills 10 years later and examined effects for specific developmental age periods.”

Indeed, a separate Science Daily report notes a University of Edinburgh study, and writes: “The more baby talk words that infants are exposed to the quicker they grasp language, a study suggests. Assessments of nine-month-old children suggest that those who hear words such as bunny or choo-choo more frequently are faster at picking up new words between nine and 21 months. Researchers say these findings suggest some types of baby talk words — more than other words — can help infants develop their vocabulary more quickly.”

The authors in the Pediatrics study write: “Little is known regarding whether language experience during different developmental periods may uniquely impact long-term outcomes.”

The methods are worth highlighting:

  • “Daylong audio recordings for 146 infants and toddlers were completed monthly for 6 months, and the total number of daily adult words and adult-child conversational turnswere automatically estimated with Language Environment Analysis software.”
  • “Follow-up evaluations at 9 to 14 years of age included language and cognitive testing.”
  • “Language exposure for 3 age groups was assessed: 2 to 17 months, 18 to 24 months, and ≥25 months. Pearson correlations and multiple linear regression analyses were conducted.”

The results: “Conversational turn counts at 18 to 24 months of age accounted for 14% to 27% of the variance in IQ, verbal comprehension, and receptive and/or expressive vocabulary scores 10 years later after controlling for SES. Adult word counts between 18 and 24 months were correlated with language outcomes but were considerably weakened after controlling for SES.”

The conclusions are clear: “Our findings are used to support the concept that a child’s early language experiences may predict developmental outcomes years later. With this study, we expand on previous research by using an automated system to estimate language experience. Conversational turn-taking between the ages of 18 and 24 months was highly correlated with later language and cognitive skills. The use of automated recordings in the home language environment provides an objective and relatively noninvasive method for assessing the strengths and weaknesses of a child’s language environment and an opportunity to design individualized family feedback and offer education and support to enhance child development, potentially altering developmental trajectories, especially of children living in impoverished language environments.”

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