There is probably no sound more sweeter than the sweet little babbling of our little ones. The way they babble on about a toy placed in front of them or while snuggling with mommy or daddy, it can be tempting to respond to them with “baby talk.” However, a new study has found that the way parents respond to their child’s babbling can actually shape the child’s communication skills.
The study, published in the July/August edition of the journal Infancy, and performed by the University of Iowa and Indiana University have found that they way parents communicate back with their children can help them learn vocalization of their wants and needs. The study’s findings are turning a traditional belief on its proverbial head. They are challenging the traditional belief system that human communication is intrinsic, and therefore cannot be influenced by parental feedback. However, the researchers contend that parents who engage with their children’s babbling are advancing their child’s language and vocalization education.
Julie Gros-Louis, assistant professor of psychology at UI, and an author of the study says, “It’s not that we found responsiveness matters, it’s how a mother responds that matters.” The researchers examined the interactions between twelve moms and their 8 month-old babies during free play twice a month for half an hour over a period of six months. It was noted how the moms responded to their children’s positive speech, such as cooing and babbling.
The study found that those infants whose moms had responded to what they thought their children were saying, had shown an advancement in consonant-vowel vocalization, meaning that the babbling had become advanced enough to sound more like words. Those infants whose mothers did not try to understand what their children were saying and instead tried to refocus their infants attention to something else did not show an advancement in their communication and language skills.
Gros-Louis says that the babies that got responses from their mothers would turn more to their moms and babble more often. Their mom’s attention showed the infants that they could engage in conversation with their moms. Gros-Louis says, “The infants were using vocalizations in a communicative way, in a sense, because they learned they are communicative.” One month after the research had concluded, a survey was administered. The results showed that mothers who were more attentive to their child’s babbling had reported that their infants were able to produce more words and complete gestures at the age of 15 months.
This study adds to a prior research study done in 2003 by Meredith West, a psychology professor at Indiana and Andrew King, a senior scientist in psychology. In that particular study, moms were told to respond in a positive way, for example, touching or smiling, each time their babies babbled or looked at them. The results of that study found that the infants learned to sound out advanced sounds that were syllable-like more often than the average infant.
Both studies are poised to change the way people typically think about human language and communicative development. But, more research is needed to validate these new findings. King says, “The debate here is huge.”