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Baby Talk: When and Why to Use It

March 11, 2014

By Noralba Martinez

A baby with talk bubbles says, "bow-wow," "baba," "choo-choo," and "wawa"

Babies begin communicating with us when they are born. Their cries and actions try to tell us everything they need. As babies get older, they need more things and therefore more ways to express those needs. As parents and caregivers, we teach children a mutual language to foster communication, be it English, Spanish, sign language, or another language. It all comes down to expressive communication.

Researchers call baby talk with exaggerated facial gestures “motherese” or “parentese.” This is our baby’s first introduction to communication. I used baby talk with my children when they were babies. It is a way to connect with your child and make words easy to say for him or her. For example, “wawa” means water and “baba” means bottle. As you will soon find out, your child will need to eventually know that “wawa” is not the correct name for water. So when should we stop baby talk?

Working in an early childhood intervention agency, most of the children who receive our services have a speech delay. We encourage the families enrolled in our program to model the use of language during their daily routines and to repeat words every chance they get. We also coach them to use simple words when communicating with their child.

By 12 months, a child should have a vocabulary of at least 10 words. Along with simple gestures, he or she should be able to use them to communicate his or her wants and needs. A recent study shows that baby talk is an effective way to communicate with your child. In the study, babies who heard baby talk frequently had more vocabulary words at two years of age than those who did not.

I encourage you to continue baby talk with your child until he or she begins repeating the words and using them to get his needs/wants. At that point I recommend that you correct the word without making your child feel ashamed or embarrassed. For example, if your child says, “want wawa,” you can respond with, “You want water, I will give you water,” passively correcting the word. With time, those words will be a beautiful memory of the past while your child is talking in phrases and even having conversations.

Remember, baby talk is a form of connecting and bonding with your child. Use it to introduce verbal communication and know when to begin sampling the words your child will need to communicate with others.

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