Language

Keep Pretending To Understand Babies—It Makes Them Smarter

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Your friend recently had a baby, and their bundle of joy couldn't be cuter. He's also quite the talker... but here's the thing, you have no idea what he's saying. Should you mimic his coos, or simply speak to him as if he's a well-spoken adult? According to a 2014 study, you should go with the latter. Pretending to understand what babies say can actually make them smarter.

Related: There's a Reason Babies Respond To High-Pitched Baby Talk

Why we're covering this:

  • If you don't know how to speak to infants, you're not alone.
  • Who doesn't want to help their baby get smarter?

Goo Goo Ga Ga? Very Interesting.

In the study published in the journal Infancy, researchers from the University of Iowa and Indiana University found that engaging in conversation with a baby (instead of talking at them or around them) could help speed up their language development. They observed a group of mothers and their infants and categorized their responses as "redirective" or "sensitive." According to The Atlantic, redirective responses "involved turning the babies' attention elsewhere, like showing them a toy or pointing out something in the room."

Related: Even If They Don't Use It, Babies Remember Their Birth Language

Sensitive responses occurred when the mothers "verbally replied to or imitated their sounds." In an example from the study, an infant utters "da-da-da," and the mother replies: "Da-da is working. I am ma-ma." At a later date, the mothers reviewed their infants' speech progress. The babies whose mothers had given them sensitive responses showed "increased rates of consonant-vowel vocalizations" at age 15 months. In other words, their baby's babbles were starting to sound more like real words. These babies were also more likely to direct said "words" towards their mothers (instead of simply out loud). University of Iowa psychology professor and study author, Julie Gros-Louis, explains: "The infants were using vocalizations in a communicative way, in a sense, because they learned they are communicative.

Help Your Baby Get Smarter

Related: Newborns Cry With Their Mothers' Accent

While researchers insist that additional studies involving more participants need to be done, these findings could be huge for how we approach communication and language development. As Iowa Now elaborates, this study challenges "the belief that human communication is innate and can't be influenced by parental feedback." So, go ahead, respond to your friend's baby like he's a normal functioning adult. He'll thank you one day.

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