Research Finds Babies Prefer Real Baby Talk Over Baby Voice Talk

New research shows that planning a play date with another baby could also help your child's speech development

A Montreal study suggests that infants prefer the sounds of their peers rather than an adult’s attempt at baby talk.

Research from McGill University’s School of Communication Disorders shows that infants as young as four months have a preference for repeated vowel sounds in an infant-like voice. 

The research, published in the journal Developmental Science, was conducted by having 22 infants, aged three to six months, sit with their caregiver and watch a screen with a checked pattern. By watching the screen, babies could control how long they heard a prolonged “e” vowel, while scientists had the ability to control various factors like pitch and frequency. Vowels were chosen for the study because most often, those are the first speech-like attempts babies make.

A synthesizer would play two sounds, a woman mimicking baby talk and another with genuine baby talk. Interestingly, infants showed a preference for the genuine baby talk, watching the screen and listening 40 per cent longer than they would for the adult baby talk.

The research suggests that infant vocal characteristics, such as a higher-pitch, are more attention grabbing for babies, because they themselves babble in a higher frequency.

A YouTube video of the experiment shows one baby involved in the research, Camille, smile and try to mimic the sounds of the synthesized infant “e” sounds. Another baby, Ethan, also tried to vocalize the infant “e” vowel he heard. Most babies simply smiled.

Researchers suggest that this attraction and interest in baby talk could kick-start the process for speech development, as babies will try mimic what they hear. The study could also offer new research and methods in assisting children with speech and hearing impairments.

However, senior author Linda Polka suggests that while babies are trying to mimic the sounds, they aren’t actually trying to communicate. Instead, they are simply exploring and learning the abilities of their mouths and vocal cords. She says that babies talk even when no one is around, meaning they’re just testing out the range of their voices. 

Polka also says that even though your baby prefers another baby’s gossip, speaking to them in a high-pitched voice is still a good move.

So next time someone gives you a weird glance for baby talking in the grocery store, ignore them. You’re doing exactly what you should be.

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