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Like linguists, biologist, psychologists, educators, sociologist and alike, we as parents are intrigued by questions like How babies acquire languages?
. Furthermore, we hear so many talks about how Being bilingual boosts brain power and cognitive development (see Bilingualism and cognitive development).

Of course, as always, we as parents want to provide our children the best of everything. We definitely don’t want to miss such an opportunity to help them acquire languages, and if possible, two, three or more.

The question is: how?

How to help babies acquire languages? Is this a third million-dollar question? Oh, yes!

Let me share with you what I researched, studied, tested and practiced in this new series: how to help babies acquire languages? If you agree, disagree or simply have something to say, please feel free to leave your comments.

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Method 1: talk to babies in a way that helps them learn faster.

Parents often hear that if they want their babies to grow up speaking like an adult they should talk to them like they are adults. Actually, another kind of talk, namely, baby talk (or “motherese”), better helps them learn languages, according to Dr. Erik D. Thiessen, director of the Infant Language and Learning Lab at Carnegie Mellon University.

Known in language development circles as infant-directed speech, baby talk is characterized by a slower word delivery, a higher fundamental frequency, greater pitch variation, longer pauses, exaggerated intonation contour, and simpler and shorter sentence structure.

To find out whether baby talk directly facilitates babies’ language learning, Dr. Thieseen and his colleagues familiarized two groups of babies with sentences containing novel nonsense words. The researchers

One group heard the sentences spoken with a pitch range and intonational structure characteristic of baby talk, whereas the other group heard the same sentences spoken in a more monotonic fashion characteristic of adult speech. In both cases, the only cue to word boundaries was the statistical structure of the speech.

They found that babies were able to discriminate between words and part words after exposure to baby talk but not after hearing adult speech. This result suggests that the prosody of baby talk facilitates some aspect of language acquisition—in this case, word segmentation, and therefore enables aster or more efficient language learning.

One reason, explained by Dr. Thiessen, is that baby talk might attracts and sustains babies’ attention better than adult speech, which could, in turn, affect learning, as attention has been found to aid learning in a variety of tasks (e.g. recognition, memorization, connection).

Besides Dr. Thiessen, other researchers reached the similar conclusions that baby talk facilitates babies’ language learning. For example, novel or focused words are frequently placed at the ends of utterances in baby talk (Fernald & Mazzie, 1991).

Babies are most successful at recognizing (Fernald, Pinto, Swingley, Weinberg, & McRoberts, 1998) and segmenting (Aslin, 2000) utterance-final words. Thus, baby talk may facilitate lexical comprehension and word learning.

Further, the simplified phrasal structure and exaggerated prosodic marking of phrases in baby talk provide redundant cues to grammatical structure, and such redundancy may aid learning (e.g., Fisher & Tokura, 1996; Morgan, Meier, & Newport, 1987; Steedman, 1996; Venditti, Jun, & Beckman, 1996). And baby talk’s simplified phrase structure may facilitate babies’ word recognition (Fernald & Cummings, 2003).

“Learning a language is one of the most critical things that an infant has to do, because communication with other people is tremendously important,” said Dr. Thiessen, “It makes a great deal of sense that the special way we have of talking to babies would help them learn.”

Therefore, dear parents, don’t feel silly, embarrassed or bashful to talk to your babies in a way that helps them learn faster.

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P.S. The following paper was used for reference during writing this article and I would like to give a special thanks to the authors:

Thiessen, E.D., Hill, E.A. & Saffran, J.R. (2005). Infant directed speech facilitates word segmentation, Infancy, 7(1), 53–71.

Related posts:
How to help babies acquire languages? (Method 1)
How to help babies acquire languages? (Method 2)
How to help babies acquire languages? (Method 3)
How to help babies acquire languages? (Method 4)


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