Doing this one simple thing could make your baby smarter. And here it is:
One of the most important things you can do to boost your baby’s development is to talk to them.
And it’s not just what you talk to them about but how you talk to your baby that matters.
It might feel a bit strange at first when you talk to baby, as they can’t talk back, but doing so can make a real difference.
Babies might not be able to reply but, believe us, they are listening. They are learning all sorts of things about communication and language that will be vital for their development.
30 million words
A landmark study found that by the age of 3 children from wealthier backgrounds were exposed to a staggering 30 million more words than children from lower socio-economic groups.
This word gap put the children who were exposed to fewer words in early years at a disadvantage when they started school.
Early childhood is a critical time for brain development. The more language a child hears in the first years of life, the better prepared they will be for school.
No matter what your bank balance is there is an easy way to boost your child’s language development, by simply talking to your child often.
The research prompted the Thirty Million Words initiative to provide all parents with clear advice to help develop their child’s early language development. And the good news is that it’s not rocket science.
It’s just about talking to your child and engaging your baby in conversations even before they can talk back. This initiative recommends ‘the three ts’ when you talk to baby.
The three Ts
Pay close attention to how your baby communicates with you.
Make sure you talk to them at their eye level and listen to their babbles, coos and cries.
Show your child that you are interested in what they are saying by pausing, listening and responding with a smile or a spoken response.
The easiest way to talk to baby is to think of yourself as the narrator to their day.
Describe in detail everything you do and see and hear and smell as you go about your day. Keep adding words to your description.
You could say: “We are going to see the ducks now. The duck has green feathers. He says ‘quack’.”
Also add ‘big’ words to your speech to increase vocabulary: “Can you see the big tree? It’s ginormous.”
Think of conversations with your baby as like playing a game of catch.
You both takes turns to talk and then listen. Leave long pauses as you speak to signal that it is your baby’s turn.
A good old chat is the best way forward
Research has shown that the best way to talk to baby is not to hold flashcards in front of their faces and repeat words or to spew complicated words at them but just to have lots of good old chats.
Simply talk to baby as you go about your day and chat to them about what you are doing and seeing. This alone can really help their language development.
You might feel a bit silly chatting on to a non-verbal tiny baby about your day but doing so provides them with so much information and vocabulary. It also teaches them about the back and forth nature of conversation.
You will find that when you leave pauses in your chat, that your baby will listen and often fill the gaps with babbles or actions. They might start waving their arms or sticking out their tongue, as they learn that it’s their turn to ‘speak’.
One of the lead researchers, Rachel Romeo, stressed the importance for parents to carry out conversation with their child, leaving pauses as they chat about their day. She said:
The important thing is not just to talk to your child, but to talk with your child. It’s not just about dumping language into your child’s brain, but to actually carry on a conversation with them.
What is important, Romeo is arguing, is not to bombard children with as many words as you can think of.
Instead to engage them in chats and leave pauses, which demonstrate the back and forth nature of conversations.
The number of adult words didn’t seem to matter at all for the brain function. What mattered was the number of conversational turns.
Why talking to your baby is important
85% of your baby’s physical brain is developed in the first three years of their lives.
Your baby is developing and learning at in incredible rate. About 700 neural connections are being made every second. And one of the most important things creating these connections is the words they hear.
This is why talking to your baby often is so crucially important.
Babies learn by watching and copying those they are closest to. When you talk to baby and leave pauses you are teaching them how conversation works.
As well as talking it’s important to watch and listen to the way your baby responds.
They will soon learn that you are interested in their response and then take your turn to continue the conversation. Every word you say builds your baby’s brain.
Motherese – the official language of mums
Mothers instinctively change the pitch and tone of their voices when talking to their babies. The way we naturally talk to them is called ‘motherese‘.
By adapting our voices babies listen and respond better. Research has shown that speaking in a childish voice and tone is beneficial to baby’s development and can kick start their learning of language.
It shows that babies prefer to listen to this sing-song form of speech, with it’s different pitch and exaggerated intonation changes above other forms of normal adult speech.
They pay attention more to motherese. They are more able to pick out smaller chunks of language because their parents will be exaggerating words and slowing down their speech as they talk to their baby.
For example a mum might say to their baby “Can you see the doggie?“. In this way they are naturally placing what they want their baby to focus on at the end of the sentence and giving it emphasis.
Your baby will be able to pick up on words more easily when you talk in this way. They slowly begin to develop their vocabulary, even if it might be a while before they can say the words themselves.
Words that babies hear more frequently, such as ‘Mummy’ and ‘Bye bye’ are learned more quickly.
Again, parents tend to naturally repeat and include such words as they talk to baby, helping them with their language development.
It’s clear from research that talking to your baby and child is important and can help their development in so many ways.
The best thing about it is that it’s something that is easy to do. It doesn’t require any money or special resources. All it needs is for you to talk to your baby as you go about your day.
Anybody can do it and everybody should. So get talking and enjoy watching your baby respond. Soon enough you’ll be having little conversations together!