Go Ahead and Gitchy-Gitchy-Goo! Why Baby Talk Is Good for Babies
By Cheryl Flanders
Babies have a way of transforming even the most serious baritone talkers into silly, grinning gitchy-gitchy-gooers. And it’s not just an American thing: From India to Finland to Mexico, adults engage in cutesy babble with babies. We humans just seem to be instinctively wired for baby talk—you know, stretching out our words, exaggerating sounds, making silly faces, and repeating ourselves over and over—and, it turns out, for good reason. Not only do babies love it, but those sing-songy, higher pitched tones (also known as infant-directed speech) actually boost brain development in more ways than one.
So don’t get all embarrassed over a little goo-goo, gaa-gaa talk—you’re helping your baby learn! Take a look at why baby talk is awesome for your infant:
- Executive-Function/Self-Regulation Skills. Executive-function skills are those that include memory, mental adaptability, and self-control. Baby talk makes babies more attentive, which means they’re listening longer and gaining the ability to focus—a valuable skill further down the road.
- Motor Skills. A 2014 study led by Patricia Kuhl and published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found evidence that baby talk—because of its slow, repetitive, and exaggerated sounds— makes it easier for infants to learn both the sounds and mouth and motor movements needed for speech.
- Phonics Prep. Infants exposed to baby talk have a much easier time figuring out and understanding word segmentation (which means knowing that the phrase “I love you” is made up of three separate words, and knowing when and where each one becomes its own word).
- Pre-Language Development. Patricia Kuhl’s study also found that the more you speak slowly to your baby using a happy tone of voice, the more she will babble once she’s able—and babbling is the forerunner to language development!
- Social-Emotional Skills. Baby talk is more emotional than communication between adults or saying words with no expression. Your baby may not understand your words, but it won’t take him long to catch the emotional clues behind your tone, which will aid him in ID’ing and naming emotions at an earlier age.
So ramp up the pitch, slow it down, make your vowels count, and don’t be afraid to call the cat a kit-teee. Remember that every gitchy-gitchy-goo moment and animated expression is a beautiful expression of your special relationship with your baby.