Don't "Baby Talk" to Your Child!

Baby talk, while often used by well-meaning adults, may not be the most effective way to support a baby's language development. Research suggests that using "motherese" or "parentese" - a form of speech characterized by a higher pitch, slower tempo, and exaggerated intonation - is more beneficial for babies.


5/1/20244 min read

Don't "Baby Talk" to Your Child

As a new parent, you may find yourself naturally using a high-pitched, singsong voice when talking to your little one. This type of speech, often referred to as "baby talk," is a common way for adults to communicate with infants and young children. However, recent research suggests that a more specific form of speech known as "motherese" or "parentese" may be more beneficial for your baby's development.

Parentese is characterized by a higher pitch, slower tempo, and exaggerated intonation compared to adult-directed speech. It may sound silly to outsiders, but studies have shown that this way of talking to your baby can have a significant impact on their language acquisition, vocabulary development, cognitive growth, and social interaction skills.

A study by Kuhl et al. (1997) found that infants exposed to motherese demonstrated better language discrimination abilities compared to those exposed to adult-directed speech. This means that parentese can help babies identify the unique sounds and patterns of their native language, setting the foundation for future language acquisition.

In addition to aiding in language discrimination, parentese has also been linked to improved vocabulary development. Research by Weisleder and Fernald (2013) revealed that the amount of child-directed speech infants were exposed to at 19 months predicted their vocabulary size at 24 months. By using real words and grammatically correct speech, parents can help their babies learn and expand their vocabulary from an early age.

Parentese not only supports language development but also cognitive growth. A study by Ramírez-Esparza et al. (2014) discovered that the use of parentese was associated with enhanced cognitive development in 11- and 14-month-old infants. The exaggerated intonation and slower tempo of parentese may help capture and maintain a baby's attention, creating an optimal environment for learning.

Beyond language and cognitive benefits, parentese also plays a crucial role in fostering social interaction and emotional bonding between caregiver and child. The warm, engaging tone of parentese encourages social interaction and promotes the development of strong, positive relationships. Research by Saint-Georges et al. (2013) suggests that this type of speech is essential for a baby's overall social and emotional well-being.

While "baby talk" may be a well-intentioned attempt to connect with your little one, it is important to note that using nonsense words or sounds may not provide the same language-learning benefits as parentese. To support your baby's language, cognitive, and social development, focus on using real words, grammatically correct speech, and an engaging tone when communicating with them.

In conclusion, the way you talk to your baby matters. By incorporating parentese into your daily interactions, you can create a rich, stimulating environment that nurtures your baby's growth and development. So, embrace the silly voices and exaggerated expressions – your baby will thank you for it in the long run!

The Benefits of "Parentese"

Research has shown several benefits of using motherese when interacting with babies:

1. Language Acquisition: Motherese helps babies develop their language skills by providing them with clear and exaggerated sounds, making it easier for them to distinguish and imitate speech sounds. The slower tempo and simple vocabulary used in motherese also help babies understand and process language more effectively.

2. Attention and Engagement: The exaggerated intonation and higher pitch used in motherese capture a baby's attention and help maintain their focus during interactions. This enhanced engagement promotes active listening and encourages babies to respond and participate in the conversation.

3. Emotional Connection: Motherese helps create a strong emotional bond between the caregiver and the baby. The use of a warm and nurturing tone in motherese conveys love, affection, and emotional support, which are essential for a baby's overall development.

4. Vocabulary Development: By using simple and repetitive words in motherese, caregivers provide babies with a foundation for vocabulary development. The clear and exaggerated sounds help babies recognize and understand words, facilitating their language acquisition process.

Tips for Using "Parentese" Effectively

Here are some tips for using motherese effectively to support your baby's language development:

1. Use a higher pitch: When speaking to your baby, raise the pitch of your voice slightly. This helps capture their attention and makes your speech more engaging.

2. Slow down: Speak at a slower pace, allowing your baby to process and understand the sounds and words more easily. Avoid rushing through your sentences.

3. Exaggerate intonation: Emphasize the melody and rhythm of your speech by exaggerating the intonation. This helps babies recognize different speech patterns and develop their own language skills.

4. Maintain eye contact: Make eye contact with your baby while speaking to them. This helps establish a connection and encourages them to focus on your facial expressions and gestures, enhancing their language learning experience.

5. Use simple and repetitive words: Choose simple words and phrases that are easy for your baby to understand and imitate. Repeat these words frequently to reinforce their learning.

6. Respond to your baby: Encourage your baby to respond by pausing after speaking and giving them time to react. Respond positively to their attempts at communication, even if it is not yet clear or fully formed.


In my experience, I currently have a nine-year-old girl and a six-year-old boy. As parents, we spoke to them constantly and engaged in various social interactions, using the serve-and-volley technique to help develop their language skills. The results showed that both have an extremely advanced and robust vocabulary, but there is a notable difference between the boy and the girl.

The girl tended to have a stronger vocabulary and reading ability. She could read at a third-grade level at the age of 24 months. The boy, on the other hand, tracked normally in his reading level. This suggests that there might be a slight difference between genders in language development, although this may be a general case and not an absolute one. There was a difference in their language abilities compared to other children.


  • Kuhl, P. K., Andruski, J. E., Chistovich, I. A., Chistovich, L. A., Kozhevnikova, E. V., Ryskina, V. L., ... & Lacerda, F. (1997). Cross-language analysis of phonetic units in language addressed to infants. Science, 277(5326), 684-686.

  • Weisleder, A., & Fernald, A. (2013). Talking to children matters: Early language experience strengthens processing and builds vocabulary. Psychological Science, 24(11), 2143-2152.

  • Ramírez-Esparza, N., García-Sierra, A., & Kuhl, P. K. (2014). Look who's talking: speech style and social context in language input to infants are linked to concurrent and future speech development. Developmental Science, 17(6), 880-891.

  • Saint-Georges, C., Chetouani, M., Cassel, R., Apicella, F., Mahdhaoui, A., Muratori, F., ... & Cohen, D. (2013). Motherese in interaction: at the cross-road of emotion and cognition? (A systematic review). PloS One, 8(10), e78103.