Ask the Expert: Is talking to my baby in a sing-song voice the best way to speak to her?
Q: I'VE just had my first baby and find myself talking to her in a sing-song baby voice. Is that the best way, or is it better to speak to her in normal tones?
A: Dr Nayeli Gonzalez-Gomez, a senior lecturer in psychology at Oxford Brookes University, has just been involved in an international study into babies' responses to baby-talk, compared to adult-talk.
She says: “This sing-song baby voice is what researchers call ‘infant-directed speech' or ‘baby-talk'. This is a special way parents and other adults use to speak to babies. Baby-talk is something that comes naturally to parents and caregivers, and people find themselves using baby-talk without really thinking about it.
“Researchers have studied baby-talk for many years and have found its main characteristics; infant-directed speech sounds a little musical and exaggerated, uses a smaller range of vocabulary, the tone of voice tends to be higher and softer, and the pronunciation of vowel sounds is stretched out.
“Baby-speech tends to be slower and more repetitive than normal adult language and contains a lot of questions. Although there are a few differences across languages, some sort of baby-talk has been found across many different cultures and communities.
“But is baby-talk really useful for babies, or would it be better to speak to them using normal tones? Researchers have asked this question for a long time, and they've found that baby-talk does have a role in infants' language and social development. The evidence suggests baby-talk increases infants' attention to speakers, due to its highly salient acoustic qualities.
“Researchers have also consistently found that baby-talk plays an important role in early language development. Babies are better at discriminating speech sounds when they are produced in a baby-talk tone compared to an adult-talk tone. Finding where one word starts and ends, as well as learning new words, is also facilitated by baby-talk.
“Babies really love baby-talk, and it makes their language and social development easier for them. So the best way to talk to your baby is to do what comes naturally to you – use baby-talk.”