Parentese vs. Baby Talk

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(originally published by Rhyme & Reason Early Learning)

Adults have a natural way of speaking to babies, which most people use automatically, while others train themselves out of because they want to simplify language, thinking that’s what babies need. Turns out, it ISN’T. Infants have an amazing ability to learn languages, and everything they need to do it is hardwired right into them!

So, what IS “Parentese?”

Parentese is that slower, higher-pitched, overly-exaggerated way of speaking to babies that you see most adults using. We open our eyes wider, put on big smiles, and over-enunciate the words we’re saying. It is often sing-songy and stretches out vowel sounds, so that an “apple” becomes an “aaaaaapple” and objects aren’t just “big,” they’re “biiiiiiig,” which makes it easier for babies to see and hear how we’re forming words.

Baby talk is something else completely. When people “baby talk” they change regular words into what is basically nonsense. Instead of telling you that you have a cute little baby, they might say: “What a toot wittle beebee!” They aren’t changing real words to emphasize meaning or pronunciation—they’re using invented words with no meaning. You should never use baby talk. Baby talk can delay speech and teach children the wrong way to speak, creating habits and speech sounds that are difficult to change.

The good news is, you can feel confident in your use of Parentese. People use it all over the world and in every language! Even the youngest babies turn their heads and are more attentive when people talk to them this way. They LOVE being spoken to in Parentese.