This article is from the In-Depth Report The Mother-Baby Bond
60-Second Science

Mom's Baby Talk Crucial For Baby

Adults have to engage in baby talk, regardless of the language they speak, so that babies can learn to talk like adults. Kevin Begos reports.

It turns out that whether you grew up speaking English, Mandarin or Swahili, you learned by listening to your mother speak in that seemingly silly, high-pitched baby talk.  Researchers at the University of Washington have discovered what's special - and apparently universal - about baby talk. It turns out that mothers stretch vowels to make speech clearer.  And infants are so attracted to the higher-pitched talk that they'll turn their heads to listen over and over.  They don’t do that when confronted with normal adult speech.

The researchers also found that by just 12 months of age, the infant brains start to favor a specific language. And the ability to understand foreign languages starts to decline.  But the brains of babies who grew up learning two languages may stay open to new sounds longer.  And there are no shortcuts to a mother or other adult making all those silly sounds—research also shows that infants learn virtually nothing from even high quality recordings of baby talk.  No they don’t!  No they don’t!

--Kevin Begos

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