Who is bet­ter at baby talk?

Lesotho Times - - Health - Time

IN the lat­est re­search on how ba­bies first pick up lan­guage, it turns out that gen­der makes a dif­fer­ence.

Re­port­ing in the jour­nal Pe­di­atrics, Dr. Betty Vohr and her col­leagues de­cided to look at how both moms and dads talk to their young ba­bies. Much re­search has fo­cused on how moth­ers en­gage in­fants, even be­fore they can speak, but fewer stud­ies have fo­cused on the male side of the equa­tion.

Tak­ing ad­van­tage of a small record­ing de­vice called LENA, which they at­tached to the ba­bies on a vest for 16 hours, Dr Vohr’s team an­a­lysed all of the ver­bal in­ter­ac­tions a group of 33 ba­bies had (none of the ba­bies were born pre­ma­ture). The record­ings oc­curred just after they were born, while the in­fants were still in the hos­pi­tal, and again at 44 weeks and seven months. The last two ses­sions were recorded on days when both the ba­bies’ par­ents were home.

From more than 3 000 hours of record­ings, the sci­en­tists got a good snap­shot of the ba­bies’ ver­bal en­vi­ron­ments. And the re­sults were both ex­pected and sur­pris­ing. When ba­bies made sounds, moms were more likely to re­spond to them ver­bally than fa­thers were — “Oooo, sweetie pie, you’re talk­ing this morn­ing.” Moth­ers re­sponded 88 per­cent to 94 per­cent of the time to the ba­bies vo­cal­iza­tions, while dads re­sponded only 27 per­cent to 33 per­cent of the time.

Per­haps be­cause of the in­creased re­spon­sive­ness, or be­cause of other rea­sons, both boys and girls were also more likely to re­spond to their moth­ers’ or fe­male voices than they were to male voices.

Dr Vohr says it’s pos­si­ble that moth­ers may use more mother-ese — the higher pitched, sing song-y con­ver­sa­tional tone that women, more than men, tend to adopt with in­fants. Moth­ers may also pair their vo­cal in­ter­ac­tions with more eye con­tact with the baby, en­cour­ag­ing them to re­spond more when they hear their moth­ers’ voices.

“It seems to me that adults talk­ing to chil­dren is ab­so­lutely the most cost ef­fec­tive in­ter­ven­tion a fam­ily could do to im­prove chil­dren’s lan­guage,” says Dr Vohr, pro­fes­sor of pe­di­atrics at Alpert Med­i­cal School at Brown Univer- sity.

She also found other in­trigu­ing gen­der­based dif­fer­ences. When she com­pared moth­ers of girls to moth­ers of boys, she found that moth­ers of girls re­sponded more fre­quently to their ba­bies’ sounds than moth­ers of boys did to theirs. The same trend oc­curred for dads; those who had boys tended to re­spond more fre­quently to their in­fants than those who had girls.

“We’re not cer­tain why that is, but the im­por­tant thing here is know­ing that of crit­i­cal im­por­tance in early lan­guage de­vel­op­ment is the need to en­cour­age both par­ents,” says Dr Vohr.

“The more we learn about it, the more we can in­form par­ents of the power they have in just talk­ing and in­ter­act­ing with their in­fants to im­prove the long term out­comes for their child and their school readi­ness.”

Pre­vi­ous stud­ies have doc­u­mented that the amount of ver­bal in­ter­ac­tion, or “con­ver­sa­tions” ba­bies are ex­posed to even be­fore they can speak, can pre­dict their later lan­guage skills and even aca­demic per­for­mance in school. —

The lat­est re­search shows that moms and dads use baby talk in dif­fer­ent ways, and that boys and girls re­spond to them dif­fer­ently too.

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