See a baby and you’ll probably start talking in a high-pitched tone and stretching out your vowels. “Whoose a prettyy baybeee?” Experts call this musical way of talking “parentese” and report there’s a true value to it. Parentese helps parents and caregivers connect to their babies and helps babies develop language skills.
Everyone talks parentese. The sing-song speech, often accompanied by exaggerated facial expressions, seems to be used by almost everyone who talks to a baby. Parentese is not merely an English-speaking practice. It’s spoken around the world, because we all love to do it — mothers, fathers, grandparents, friends, older siblings, even preschoolers. And what’s more, babies seem to like it too.
Parentese delights babies. Research shows that infants actually prefer parentese to adult conversations. They will turn their head to hear it, even if it’s spoken in a foreign language. Babies not only enjoy the high-pitched sounds, they also like watching our faces as we talk to them.
Parentese helps babies learn language. The elongated vowels, high pitch, exaggerated facial expressions and short, simple sentences actually help infants learn language. Their brains are “mapping” the sounds they are hearing, and talking in a way that gets their attention helps them learn to speak and understand language.
How do you talk Parentese?
Parentese features well-formed, elongated consonants and vowels. We tend to pronounce words precisely when we talk to babies — pulling out the vowel sounds and clearly voicing consonants — in marked contrast to the hurried way we speak to other adults. A “sweet baby” becomes a bright “sweeet baybeee.” Move in close so your baby can see your eyes widen and sparkle and your lips move.
How is Parentese different from baby talk?
Baby talk uses sounds and nonsense words. Parentese uses actual words, in short and simple sentences, often repeated over and over again, for example, “Who’s my li-i-ttle baybee? Are you my littlee baybee? Yes, yoooo are!”