Baby Talk: The importance of babbling

Baby Babbling
Category: Parents

How many times have we all heard the message about the importance of talking to children? Children who are spoken to have a wider vocabulary range, and tend to have better language and communication skills.

Some children go to school having heard 32 million fewer words than their peers – this is known as 'word poverty'. By the time these children get to school, they’re already playing catch up.

There’s no doubt about it, children need to hear language in order to learn language. We encourage parents to spend time talking to their children, and new research shows that it isn’t necessarily what we say to children, but how we say it that makes the difference.

Motherese is a style of speech many adults use when speaking to infants. It’s characterised by elongated vowel sounds and large variations in pitch and tone. It’s long been acknowledged as a central part in gaining and maintaining children’s attention. Children respond better to this kind of speech. However, new studies are also showing that the more elongated the vowel sounds, the more this encourages a child to babble.

Babbling is an important pre-cursor of speaking, and more importantly it’s an early form of speech. When babies babble, they’re telling their story and talking. If you listen closely to babbling patterns, you’ll hear a variation in tone that mimics the speaking patterns of adults. Babbling helps to build up the finer muscles required to pronounce speech clearly.

The more time a parent spends chatting with a child, the more this will help their language development. However, it’s also important to acknowledge that it isn’t just the speaking, but giving the child the chance to babble back that will help their language skills progress.

It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it. The next time you chat with a child, stretch out your vowel sounds, speak slowly and give the child plenty of time to answer you back. Language development is a conversation and the more we give children a chance to play with speech and speech sounds, the more we’re helping to develop their speaking and communication skills.

Read more of Tracy's blogs on early years and language development here.

Tracy Cooper

Tracy is the Senior Early Years Trainer for Scottish Book Trust.