Baby talk is the one language we all have in common when confronted with a small child. Despite how naturally it comes, an adult’s inclination to melt into a series of coos and sing-songy speech when in the presence of a baby has often been the topic of debate.
Wouldn’t it be much better to speak properly to children so that they learn what’s “correct”? As it turns out, our instinctive tendency to use baby talk has three major benefits to language development and is completely appropriate up to a certain age.
Baby Talk Holds Their Attention
Baby brains naturally seek out higher pitched voices, and it’s no surprise that small children are naturally drawn to songs and jingles. When we speak at a higher register or with a tune in our voice, it holds a baby’s attention. They become engaged in what we’re doing and, therefore, pay attention to our sounds, tones, and facial expressions.
Our Exaggerated Speech Makes Language Clearer
Babies are learning a new language. When we slow down our speech and over-exaggerate sounds in a word, it actually helps little ones have an easier time understanding where words begin and end.
It Encourages Two Way Conversation
When we engage with our babies using the sing-songy speech and high pitches they enjoy, they coo and gurgle in response. Delighted by our child’s adorable counter, we return with even more drawn out, gooey speech and this is the beginning of learning how to have a conversation. Going back and forth shows them how communication works and instills basic ideas like turn taking and engagement.
When Should Baby Talk End?
Although there’s no absolute age at which baby talk needs to stop, it naturally tends to die down at about 15 months. Baby talk is useful when the child doesn’t know what words mean. As a toddler increases their grasp on words and their meanings, baby talk should decrease.
This doesn’t mean you need to make a hard switch to serious adult speech, however. It’s ok to have silly words and moments of gushing over your child with those tones and inflections you both love. Just be sure to balance it with new vocabulary and encourage them when they talk like the “big kid” they are!