Parents, Just Pretend Your Baby’s Babbling Makes Sense

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Photo: H. Armstrong Roberts/© Corbis. All Rights Reserved.

Parents of tiny humans: When your little one looks at you and starts babbling away, just go ahead and act as if you understand. New research from the University of Iowa suggests that by visibly trying to understand what their babies are attempting to say, parents may be helping to speed their child’s language-learning process.

Twice a month for six months, researchers observed moms playing with their infants (who were 8 months old at the study’s outset) in a lab setting, paying close attention to what the mother did when the baby started babbling and cooing. More study details, via the press release:

What researchers discovered is infants whose mothers responded to what they thought their babies were saying, showed an increase in developmentally advanced, consonant-vowel vocalizations, which means the babbling has become sophisticated enough to sound more like words. The babies also began directing more of their babbling over time toward their mothers.

On the other hand, infants whose mothers did not try as much to understand them and instead directed their infants’ attention at times to something else did not show the same rate of growth in their language and communication skills.

An unspoken, unscientific bonus here: Holding a fake “conversation” with a preverbal infant is a pretty amusing way to pass the time (“And what did you do today? You don’t say!”), and now research suggests it’s good for that little baby brain, too? Win-win.