Early Language Development

Babies start cooing as early as eight weeks old in response to their parent’s or caregiver’s infant speech (motherese). These sounds occur when the baby is content and relaxed. Cooing sounds do not grow out of crying but develop alongside them. They are quieter, lower-pitched, and more musical sounds. The sounds are made up of consonants (“g” and “k”) followed by vowels (“ah”, “er”, or “uu”).

What is Infant-Directed Speech?

You have probably noticed that parents and other people tend to speak to babies in a different way than they to adults. This “infant-directed speech” can sound a little musical and exaggerated. 

Usually, infant-directed speech uses a smaller range of vocabulary, the tone of voice may be higher and softer, it may be slower and more repetitive than normal adult language and contain a lot of questions. 

This way of talking is preferred by babies and may make language learning and social development easier for them. Luckily, infant-directed speech comes naturally to parents and caregivers, and this “silly” language is automatically adopted when interacting with any baby or an animal and the same intonation, babbles, and playful style are used. 

Research shows that babies much prefer to listen to infant-directed speech than their parents talking to other adults. It has nothing to do with the choice of words – it is all in the delivery. It is a language of comfort and research shows that even adults feel comforted by it.

Research shows that infant-directed speech provides babies with well-formed, elongated consonants and vowels giving clear examples of speech. Parents pronounce words properly and clearly when they talk to their babies. This is helpful for your baby and the perfect way to talk to your babies to really encourage their early language development.

Why do babies babble?

During the cooing and babbling stage, scientists believe that babies are making mouth-to-sound maps so that they know exactly where their lips, tongues, mouths and jaws are during the production of sound (mouth mapping). Whilst they are cooing and babbling babies often have their fingers and hands in their mouths too so that it can be a tactile experience. Language development is a sensory experience using auditory, visual and tactile stimulation to understand the language puzzle.

The earliest form of babbling is where the child produces a series of consonant-vowel syllables with the same consonant being repeated, e.g. “wa-wa-wa” or “mu-mu-mu”. Babbling does not directly lead into language, it’s a form of verbal play and continues after the child has started speaking. It seems to be their way of practicing the sounds and sequences needed for language without worrying about the meaning. Babbling is a universal language, and it is not possible to tell the nationality of a baby from listening to these early sounds.

At Baby College we teach these basic babbling sounds that all our babies will naturally speak. During our classes parents and carers work closely with their baby using plenty of eye contact, intonation and encouragement. Infant-directed speech is encouraged, as is repetition, animated faces, and lively and interesting conversation. We also use nursery rhymes to reinforce this work, as they replicate the use of this infant-directed speech: simple, melodic, high pitched repetitive lyrics which really encourage the development of those early language skills.