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Child Development

Speak Parentese, Not Baby Talk

baby talkSee 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!”

  • Brittneyperkins400

    Never spoke to my daughter like this and she gained a large vocabulary from hearing the words spoken correctly.

    • Reem Samar

      never?? just wondering.. i feel like it’s so instinctual that you can’t help but do it once in a while. am i wrong?

      • gubmuhhab

        I don’t.

    • TimJohnsonMN

      Well that settles it. your anecdotal, biased evidence is proof enough for me!

  • Asmeralda

    you have no heart !

  • MiG

    I speak speak to my 5 month baby in parentese && he seems to love it! I love the part when he starts goofing back with a smile

  • raise expectations

    Very fun. Way back when my second child was little. We were in a public space and I was talking to her (in parentese, though I did not know it) and a nice lady mentioned how smart my child would be because I was not using baby talk. As it turns out she a very smart, beautiful young lady with Down syndrome :-)

    • LeanneSB

      does she speak? mine never did.

  • Jen

    Testing comments.

  • Your neighbor.

    This is a good way to contract learning disabilties. No one speaks like that. I talk to my infant as I would any other person. With normal English. Not dumbed down English. My child is not dumb.

    • OldMotherHubbard

      Do you actually “contract” learning disabilities? I think that a baby requires a “special” tone, at least early on to engage them. Speaking to a 2 month old baby like you would any other person sounds a bit boring, not dumb.

    • AragornSonOfArathorn

      I find it incredibly hard to believe that using parentese would contract learning disabilities. I also don’t think you know how learning disabilities are formed. You’re making a ridiculous sweeping statement which is offensive to both families and children with learning disabilities. It is like with anything, if you enjoy doing it, they will learn better, making listening fun at an early age will develop their ability to intake information and retain it.

      • IQ 152

        I have a 3.5 year old boy who just started daycare. I never ever speak nonsense to him. I am offended by parents who baby talk to their children. Other children in his group speak in a way that is painful to hear. Wah-dough, sweepie time. It may sound cute, but the language you speak with is the language you think with. Speach impediment is a sign of impeded thoughts. Dumb parrents raise dumb children.

        • Kaylee Janise

          *speech
          Learn to spell before calling others dumb.

        • Language

          Well I agree on the point that parents who don’t know how to speak well teach their children to speak the same way. I never hear my neighbor speak to her infant only at him. He discovered his ability to make sounds other than crying about 5 months ago, and is almost 2 now. The poor child screams all the time! Now I’m starting to recognize what he is saying with his screams, the things his mother taught him. “Stop that nowwww!” “Come heerrr!” It’s “parentese” but spoken only at a high volume and from a distance. It’s all the kid can say, sooooo sad.

  • Your neighbor again

    If you always talk boring to people, yes. But I always take about interesting things to my child an pose real interesting questions. I was being fasicous about contracting learning disabilties. But they will develop you you use this “parentese”. Also just like a baby I would also be more prone to look at somone speaking in the afore mentioned manner. And I usually ignore when I hear strangers talking on the street.

    • wrknmoshn

      Learning Disabilities are not “contracted.” LD is a difference in the way a baby’s brain processes information. It is not the result of poor teaching or poor parenting. It is inherent in the child. There is actually a strong genetic link for learning disabilities. In young babies, parentese allows the baby’s brain to break down the sounds in the words she hears and it begins to help her develop phonemic awareness – a critical skill for the later development of reading. Parentese is absolutely not “babytalk.” It is an elongation of vowels in real words wrapped in an attractive package of varying tones and pitches. No one is implying that you use parentese until a child begins school, but in the very young baby, parentese actually attracts the baby to words and sounds. A very good thing for development of receptive and expressive language, reading and spelling.

      • A.friend

        “Your neighbor” is actually quite misinformed and an atrocious speller. It is highly disrespectful to parents of special needs children to reduce their struggle to a simple matter of talking to their children the right way. Most parents of special needs kids that I know have struggled and tried just about everything to help their kids. These are the parents that are willing try anything for their child. The point is not whether or not it is their fault. Chances are likely that if they are good parents, they feel guilt anyway, regardless of our opinion. In other words, if you can’t help, don’t have a child with special needs or haven’t read research regarding these issues, the very least thing you can do is keep those kind of comments to yourself!

  • Pingu007

    Potty training can be so hard, I’ve also been there. But luckily I stumbled upon this site and tried a 3 day method I found there.
    Can really recommend it to every parent that is struggling out there!

  • Pingu007

    The behaviour of children is very unpredictable whatever you do as a parent. The terrible twos and terrible threes are a very challenging time in the development of a child. Hopefully parets can gain something wit this.

  • stella

    My son now 16 months but he still don’t known call me & my hubby. What we speak to me. Seem he understand. Any good advise. Thanks

  • stella

    Is he have a learning difficulties?

  • SPEDGranny

    So that you know, you cannot “contract” learning disabilities! LD’s are not communicable diseases. Using “Parentese” will not cause LD’s. I used it along with singing rhymes, lots of spoken (and correctly) pronounced words, lots of labelling and lots of age appropriate books and adult modelled reading. My son’s first words started at 9 months. His first complete sentence was at 11.5 months requesting a highly desireable item. To learn language you must hear language. Using “parentese” also provides the extremely important component of language acquisition – human interaction! Remember, articulation is developmental. This means your child is unlikely to produce all sounds until they are “4 ish”.

  • Victor Ndonnang

    Interesting!I have learned a new word today. I have been practicing Parentese with my little boy without even acknowledging it. I will use your advice to do it in a more better way. I’m using French (my first language) and English (my second language) as well and hope It will help my child becomes bilingual in the future. Is It a good or bad thing doing it in both languages?

    • EmLo

      I think doing it in both languages is awesome. Research has shown that babies’ little brains are pre-wired to learn language quickly and they can certainly pick up more than one!

  • Keh06c

    I’ve heard conflicting views on this….I majored in linguistics/anthropology and again in communication disorders. At the first university I attended the professor was pro-parentese and mentioned the same views above; however, at the second university I attended we read newer research articles that gave evidence that this actually stunts language growth in children. Also, everyone does not speak parentese…it is more prevalent in middle class America. Language acquisition varies depending on culture, socioeconomic status, parent education, religion, gender, etc….BUT this does have some merit and I am definitely guilty of it because I feel it builds an emotional/trusting relationship between the caregiver and child :-)

  • biteme

    I speak to my three month old like this, I honestly don’t believe that it hurts them at all. As I’m sure you all have noticed, every parent reads up on stuff like crazy from the moment they see that they are expecting or in the least before or a little after the child is born. I have found much more in favor of parentese than not. Children learn words by repeating sounds until they get the hang of the new sound, then moving on to the next sound. Then they start puting sounds together to make words. I have read many articles and passages from books that say it doesn’t matter how you teach them as long as you put forth the time to teach them. Personally, I speak in parentese all the time, jist hoping to hear the wonderful, adorable sounds my little sweetheart makes. I think as long as you talk to the little one, they will pick up language. Though I totally understand the benefits of parentese. Please don’t bash each other. Oh, and learning disorders aren’t typically from this kind of things. Most learning disorders are present from birth and others occur from a parent not working with the child, but some do just happen at no fault of anyone and it certainly has nothing to do with the nonsense language you speak to your child when they are four months old. Rant over!

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