Baby Brain Connection

Parenting for Early Childhood Literacy


​Background Information for "Talking"

A parent’s job begins at their child’s birth. Parents don’t need a teaching degree, but they do need to teach. Based on an abundance of research, experts agree that parents truly are their child’s first teachers.

The first three years of a baby's life are crucial for growing the learning pathways in the brain, which have a lasting impact on a child right through to adulthood. Research shows that to teach a baby to talk is the best thing you can do to develop a baby's brain. From day one, parents can start providing vocabulary. Bridgett Chandler, Vice President and Chief Programs Officer at Talaris Research Institute in Seattle, says, "Kids absorb language long before they speak. Children make maps and patterns of sounds they hear over and over. By the time they're a year old, if they don't hear certain sounds, they won't be able to recognize them later."

Infants start communicating right from birth. Crying, smiling, making sounds, looking at a parent’s face, and looking away re all ways babies tell us when they are hungry, sleepy, want our attention,or need a little break from the excitement.  How we respond to these communication attempts helps infants to regulate their emotions, manage stress, and feel safe.  When parents talk and listen to their infants, they create a bond by activating areas of the brain related to hearing, speech, and recognizing the individual sounds of language and also the social and emotional centers. “Just as exposing children to books helps develop their interest in reading; talking to children helps develop their language abilities. (Morgan)

​​Parentese is a sing-song speech that has a higher pitch, slower tempo, and exaggerated facial
expressions, which seems to be used by almost everyone who talks to a baby.
Babies’ brains are “mapping” the sounds they are hearing. When we talk in a way that gets their attention, we help them learn to speak and understand language. Parentese is spoken around the world, and it is done in different languages by people of all ages. 

Parents can help the language process in their infant's early months by holding their baby close, exaggerating sounds, slowing their language down, and pitching their voices higher. In every culture, parentese is the way adults change their speech for a very young child. Although it is also important for a child to hear regular adult speech in order to develop vocabulary, parentese or a kind of “baby talk,” plays a crucial role in the development of language and communication skills. Actually, baby talk uses sounds and nonsense words. Parentese uses real words in short and simple sentences that are often repeated over and over again, for example, “Who’s my li-i-ttle baybee? Are you my littlee baybee Yes, yoooo are!” When we talk to babies, we pull out the vowel sounds and clearly pronounce consonants, which is a contrast to the hurried way we speak to other adults. A “sweet baby”becomes a bright “sweeet baybeee.” Babies love hearing your voice move from high to low as you talk. Your baby will turn her head to hear your playful voice even if it’s spoken in a foreign language.  She will look at your face and focus on your lips especially when you move in close to your baby.  She will listen closely to the sounds you make, even when she doesn’t know what the words mean. Babies not only enjoy the high-pitched sounds, they also like watching our faces as we talk to them. 

​Research shows that infants actually prefer parentese to adult conversations; they not only pay much more attention when hearing parentese but also appear to learn more words and develop language skills faster than babies who were not exposed. Experts feel this kind of communication adds emotion and feeling to words and language, making it easier for the child to understand what’s being said. While she doesn’t know what every word means, your baby may still understand — at least in general — what you are saying. So when you hear your very young infant cooing and you repeat those sounds back to her, this  simple action not only teaches her sounds, but how the give and take of communication works. 

Children need our guidance and many “teaching” opportunities for early literacy development so they can be better ready to learn when they enter preschool and kindergarten. Research demonstrates that the size of a child's vocabulary upon entering school has a direct impact on his long term success as a student.  Studies also show that children from low socioeconomic environments begin kindergarten knowing far fewer words than children from middle class backgrounds. Their utterances are shorter and less frequent; they use fewer adjectives and descriptive words; and there is less higher-level questioning. That's why educators and researchers continue to look for ways to jump-start reading readiness, and they encourage exposure and building of vocabulary. With schools placing increased emphasis upon testing and academic proficiency, sharpening those literacy skills has become more important than ever. 

The key to early learning is talking, specifically, a child’s exposure to language spoken by parents and caretakers from birth to age 3. The more the better!  The use of words has to be personal interaction — not media,as primary language is acquired through the feedback loop between the child and the caregiver. Much evidence shows that having a television on actually interferes with a child learning his first language. Language use increases with interaction and decreases when television is on because TV use leads to decreased verbal interaction between parent and child.  Interacting with a child helps literacy and social-emotional development; and it is one of the most important ways to stimulate a baby’s brain growth.  This can be accomplished through lots of talking, playing and interacting, and reading stories whenever possible. 

Children who have a greater number of one-to-one conversations, positive interactions, and whose parents regularly read to them are going to be able to read much easier and have greater academic and social success in school and life than children who do not have these experiences.“Talk, and then
talk some more” along with playing and interacting, and reading seems to be the recipe for success! The more you talk, the more kids learn. Babies and young children learn to speak by listening to you, so start talking to them the day they are born. Fortunately, life offers plenty of opportunities to connect and engage in rich conversation.