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Trending science: Babbling with baby can speed up language development

New research suggests that visibly trying to understand what babies are attempting to say may help to speed up the language-learning process.

Researchers at the University of Iowa (UI) and Indiana University have discovered that that how parents respond to their children's babbling can actually shape the way infants communicate. According to the research, when parents act as if they understand baby chatter, the infants show ‘an increase in developmentally advanced, consonant-vowel vocalisations.’ The research team says that the findings challenge the belief that human communication is innate and can't be influenced by parental feedback. Instead, the researchers argue, parents who consciously engage with their babbling infants can accelerate their children's vocalising and language learning. ‘It's not that we found responsiveness matters,’ says Julie Gros-Louis, assistant professor of psychology at the UI and author of the study. ‘It's how a mother responds that matters.’ Researchers observed the interactions between 12 mothers and their eight-month-old infants during free play twice a month over a six-month period. They noted how the mothers responded to their child's positive vocalisations, such as babbling and cooing, especially when it was directed toward the mother. The team discovered that infants whose mothers responded to what they thought their babies were saying, showed an increase in developmentally advanced, consonant-vowel vocalisations. 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. Medical News Today (MNT) tells us that all participating mothers completed a survey one month after the study had ceased that detailed their infants' language development. MNT says, ‘Infants whose mothers were attentive to their babbling during the study period produced more words and gestures aged 15 months than infants whose mothers who were less attentive to their babbling throughout the study.’ The Atlantic magazine concludes, ‘The takeaway of all this is that how parents speak to their infants may be as important as the frequency with which they do it.’ This gives us licence, according to the Atlantic, to go ahead and ‘simply talk to babies like they’re miniature adults’. The research is published in the July/August edition of the journal Infancy. For more information, please visit: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/infa.12054/abstractFurther information on: www.plasticise.eu Coordinator: Prof. James Fawcett, Brain Repair Institute, University of Cambridge, UK Contact person: Dr. Isabelle Weiss, Plasticise Project Manager, weiss@hifo.uzh.ch

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