Thursday, September 26, 2013

Parenting Plea #427: BAN THE BABY-TALK!

Disclaimer:  I'm not a professional.  I'm just a somewhat-normal, sometimes sarcastic, individual who mostly doesn't understand what goes through some parents' heads when they say or do certain things -- and then I blog about it.

My rant for today:

The sequence of how kids learn to speak looks like this:

vowel sounds ---> babbling--->1-2 words--->2-3 word phrases--->sentences--->bigger sentences.

This being said, baby-talk does NOT contribute to the normal, healthy development of baby's language.

Now, before you go and get all offended because perhaps you spoke (or speak) "baby-talk" with your own children, let's define it first.

What is baby talk?  For the purpose of this blog post, I am going to define baby talk as  the made-up, or purposefully mispronounced words (sometimes sounds like a speech impediment when it isn't), often used in high-pitched tones when directed towards babies and children. 

Caregiver, in high-pitched voice:  "Mmmm.  Cookie.  You wike cookie?  Num-nums in tum-tums."

Okay, we all know about onomatopoeias and are probably familiar with "nom-nom-nom" as the noise someone makes while they are eating something pleasurable.  Am I totally against the word "nom" or "num"?  No...not per se.  It's just that "num-nums in tum-tums" is a bit much.

Babies start their venture by mouthing vowel sounds and then repeating certain sounds and syllables (ah-ah-ah to ma-ma-ma-ma, etc.).  This is healthy for babies.  The more we talk to babies, the better they will be able to string certain syllables together and give meaning to them.  For example, if mother repeats, every time daddy comes home, "Daddy's home!  Daddy's home!", then Baby will try to mimic her sounds, often resulting in "Da-da".  The same might be true for "bottle" turning to "bah-bah".  You get the idea.

Baby-talk is detrimental is because babies need to hear REAL words and REAL sentences, using CORRECT PRONUNCIATIONS and CORRECT GRAMMAR because they'll continue to mimic what they hear, and will further develop good language skills if we provide them an environment with positive linguistic opportunities.

How should we talk to babies?  Oh, I'm so glad you asked.  We should talk to infants and toddlers in what scientists and researchers call "Child-Directed Speech".  Like baby-talk, child-directed speech also involves the use of higher-pitched (or soothing) tones.  Unlike true baby-talk, the adult uses simple, but REAL words. (Here's where you can relax if you thought THIS was the "baby-talk" I meant.  This, however, is not true "baby-talk".  The easy way to remember is "baby-talk" is the way BABIES talk!)

Now, imagine the earlier scenario of the caretaker asking if the baby likes the cookie.  In child-directed speech, the sentence would sound something like this:

Caregiver: "Do you like that cookie?  Mmmm.  It's good, isn't it?"

Much better!  Now, for the do's and do not's.

DO - talk to them often, especially right from birth.  Babies' eyes are not yet fully developed and the closer the face-to-face time when talking, the better.

DO - read/tell lots of stories, even before they are old enough to sit up and look at pictures.  Babies LOVE to watch your facial expressions.  They also learn how to perceive various intonations by hearing you tell stories.  It's intonations that give meaning to various words and phrases.

DO - sing to them.  This has the same advantages as talking to them and telling them stories, but also has another benefit.  Sounds in the womb are very rhythmic; likewise, songs are also full of beats and patterns.  This can provide a soothing environment for babies and if the songs are sung or played often, babies will begin to identity certain repeated words or phrases, and will be more likely to mimic them.  (Why I love children's songs!)

DO NOT - rely on the TV/DVDs to teach them language.  In fact, the American Pediatric Association recommends babies not watch TV until they are at least 1 year in age (and then no more than 1 hour a day for ages 2-5 and no more than 2 hours for elementary age children).  TVs don't provide real, live, 3-dimensional experiences.  (I wasn't the greatest at enforcing this one.)

DO - use REAL words and CORRECT grammar when speaking to an infant. This is how they learn words and meanings of words -- words they will need to use in REAL society.

Case in point:  Have you ever had a 2-year-old ask you for something and you had no idea what she was saying because it sounded like a made-up language?  Once, a child in the nursery asked for her babu-bah.  I had no idea what she wanted. I tried everything to console her.  I offered her snacks, a drink, stories, puzzles, toys, etc., but she just kept calling for her babu-bah, finally getting frustrated and resorting to tears.  (The 2-year-old cried too).  When her mom came to pick her up she said, "Oh!  That's what we call her sippy cup."  I remember thinking to myself, "The child is 2.  Why not teach her to say sippy cup?"

DO NOT - use fake words/pronunciation/grammar. (I think we've covered all the reasons why already.  If you still don't get it, you should probably stop reading -- or ask someone in close proximity to slap you upside the head.)

DO NOT - CRITICIZE or DIRECTLY CORRECT if your child uses the wrong word. Instead, repeat the child's statement back to them, modeling the correct words and pronunciations.  For example --

Caregiver: "Do you like that cookie?  Mmmm.  It's good, isn't it?"
Child: (nods) "Me wike tookie. Ez good."
Caregiver:  "Yes.  I like the cookie too.  It IS good!"

Children will hear you modeling correct language and begin to self-correct (unless they have a speech or developmental issue.  But that's for another post.)  

DO NOT - be afraid to use slightly bigger words as the child grows (after they can effectively speak in sentences).  This also adds to their linguistic growth and development.  However, make sure they understand what the new word means, otherwise it's a moot point. For example, "You have to show me you're responsible before we can have pet.  Do you know what the word responsible means?"  And then go on to explain.

If you find yourself offended by this or facing the fact that you, as a caregiver, are a baby-talker, don't worry.  They have professional help for that.

Case in point: There is a little boy in my family who had a regular caregiver constantly talk baby-talk to him (for nearly 6 years).  It's taken almost 2 years (since he started school) to break him of speaking that way, thanks to professional help (teachers & therapists), persistence on the parents' part, and an "intervention" with that specific caregiver in his life. 

I don't understand why some people think kids aren't mature enough to have real conversations with real words. Contrary to their belief, it's not endearing when the child is in school and says that their lunch "taysez goo" and can they "pweeze pway with they fwenz?"  Instead it makes them appear as if they have a speech impediment or are developmentally behind (including social development).

So, do your kids a favor and  STOP THE BABY-TALK!


Ruthykins said...

I could NOT agree more with this whole post! It drives me nuts to hear people teaching their kids to talk like idiots! "Aw, did her fall down, go boom?" I actually heard a real mother say this to her little 4 year old. I wanted to smack her. I always do the singsong voice with babies and young'uns, but I always used real words, and now my kids can talk really well.

EmmaP said...

Yes. My children speak extremely well, and have always been able to hold their own in a conversation with adults too. People tell me my kids use "big words" too. I don't really think they do, although they probably use more words than the average kid in their grade, just because I like words and I like teaching them new words.

The Ince's said...

I couldn't agree with you more! Drives me nuts that my sister in law and her family talk like this to their 7 year old. The 7 year old then talks to my 1 year old like that and I have to direct her in how she talks to him. Funny thing is that he ignores her because I don't talk like that. Haha!

epiblogue said...

I remember sitting in church (before church began)and the church woman behind us started talking baby-talk to my kids aged 5, 4 and 2. I don't remember what she actually said but my kids just stared at her and didn't respond. After church my oldest asked me "what was that lady saying today. I couldn't understand her" I just laughed and said she was trying to talk to her like a baby would talk. My oldest said "that's crazy!" I agreed.

epiblogue said...

My daughter Caelin had some trouble with r's. She could say an r properly in the beginning of a word sauch as room. She could say r properly at the end of a word like car. But she couldn't say r if it was in the middle of a sentence, like piwate instead of pirate. When we went to school to sign up for I talked to the speech therapist and she said not to worry about it unless she's around 5th grade and still having trouble. I thought "are you kidding me!" I thought to wait until she was in 5th grade before she'd help out was so not acceptible to me. So my husband and I decided to come up with a word list for her to practice every day. We'd say it correct and really emphasize the r sound so she could hear it. By the end of kindergarten she didn't have a problem anymore. So if we used baby talk AND never worked on r's with her I can only imagine how she as a 7th grader would be talking. Probably like this: O M G! Tyleh Lautneh is so gohgeous! His abs ahh so wipped wike a wash bohd I could do my wandwy on him!