The science behind talking to your baby – or why choo-choo is better than train

One thing I have always stopped myself doing when talking to my newborn is lots of “baby talk”.

This is the mostly annoying (at least, I think) way of talking to your baby that involves saying words that either end in “y” (i.e. bunny or doggy), sound like their meaning (such as woof or splash) or have repeated syllables (like choo-choo).

My mantra has always been to talk to my two little ones like I would to an adult.

Yet while that might sound incredibly boring and dull, maybe it is actually the wrong thing to do.

That is because linguists at the University of Edinburgh have discovered that infants whose parents used more instances of baby talk actually learnt new words quicker than those babies that didn’t get so much cooing.

The linguists measured 47 infants’ language skills and then recorded samples of speech spoken to each infant by an adult. They then analysed the speech for baby talk before measuring the infants’ language skills again when they were 15 and 21 months old.

They saw a boost in language ability for those infants that were talked to using “y-ending words and repeated syllables. But not all types of baby talk saw a similar boost — there was no benefit when saying words that sound like their meaning, such as woof or splash.

So less of the woof and more of the choo-choo.

Author: Michael Banks

UK science writer

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