Are you fluent in baby?

Along with all of the other surprising changes that come with bringing home a newborn baby, you may find that you are suddenly fluent in another language. Bottles become “ba-bas,” fathers become “da-das” and sores become “boo-boos” or “ouchies.”

This sing-songy, simplified way of talking is a universal dialect commonly used by caregivers of all types, and often is extended to loved ones of every age (and even our pets) to show affection. The cooing, nonsense words and slower pace of speech associated with “baby talk” are actually part of a recognized language pattern known as Motherese, Parentese, or Child Directed Speech (CDS). High in pitch with exaggerated intonation, CDS is the way we communicate with infants and toddlers to indicate we are speaking directly to them. At first, these blissful exchanges are one sided. As your baby develops, the babbling and glissandos are returned, along with smiles and laughter.

Lori Littlefield-Munoz of Queen Creek, a speech-language pathologist with Horizon Pediatric Therapy and Pediatric Therapy Specialists in Mesa, specializes in early intervention for children ages 3 and younger. She encourages parents to use the short phrases and utterances typical of CDS to converse with little ones. “Babies and infants respond better to Child Directed Speech than adult directed speech,” she says. “It also introduces turn-taking skills, which is important for language and social development.”

As you babble away, watch for important development milestones. By the age of 1, children should be able to say a couple of words. Their vocabulary should continue to grow exponentially. At 12 to 18 months, children should be using 50 to 100 one-word utterances. Between 18 and 24 months, they should be saying 200 to 300 words, be able to put two words together into a simple sentence and be able to speak intelligibly about 50 percent of the time. At 3, they should be able to put three to four words together, ask simple questions (who, what, where, why) and be intelligible almost 75 percent of the time.

The baby talk that comes so effortlessly to new parents will eventually go by the wayside. “As a child’s speech and language advances, it appears that parents naturally modify their speech to match their child’s speech,” Littlefield-Munoz observes. “So if a child can talk in sentence form and four- to five-word phrases, the parents should not be using baby talk anymore. Parents are really good at adjusting their speech to match their child’s speech and language ability.”

Encourage healthy speech and language development by:

  • Getting down on the floor and playing with your child.
  • Providing toys that are imaginative, not electronic. Blocks, pretend food, play dough, dolls and animals are playthings that encourage simple, enjoyable interactions.
  • Praising all verbalizations to encourage confidence in your child’s budding conversational abilities.
  • Sharing books with your child. “You don’t even need to read the words on the page,” says Littlefield-Munoz. “Talk about what is going on in the picture, label items, and have your child point to different pictures in the book.

If you are ever worried about your child’s language development, don’t hesitate to contact a speech therapist to get an evaluation, says Littlefield-Munoz. Speech intervention is most effective during the earliest developmental stages.