Goldstein`s baby language studies

I have been reading a book while staying here in NZ... `Nurture Shock`  by Po Bryson and Ashley Merrym (here is a link to an excerpt from the book if you are interested).

The book is definitely educational and also psychological, the two things I am very passionate about and spent most of my university years studying. The central premise of the book is that many of modern society’s strategies for nurturing children are in fact backfiring – because key twists in the science have been overlooked.

One of the most interesting things that I have read about so far is the way in which babies learn languages. This is something I am really interested in as I hope Aiden will become bilingual in English and Japanese naturally.

I (and many other mums and dads) believed that exposing a child to hundreds of words is the best way for him/her to learn to recognize and speak them... in fact, there is much more going on inside our babies` heads, and there are definitely more ways to help (and hinder) language development, starting as early as 9 months of age (when babies have the ability to speak their first words!!).

Here is some information from the book, and a link to more information if you are interested.

Tips to Help Toddlers Develop Language Skills

1. Baby Talk May Sound Silly But It's Really Good For Kids
Baby Talk: We've all done it — that oddly sing-song, slow, giddy cadence that people suddenly use when speaking to children. There's actually a lot of research on baby talk — the scientific expression for it is parentese. Its patterns and cadence are so universal, that scholars can play a recording of someone speaking in a language you've never heard before, and you'll still know if the person was talking to a baby.

Some parents are adamant against baby talk; instead, they want kids to hear adults speak normally. But that's the wrong approach. Parentese's exaggerated qualities help children's brains discern discrete sounds. By elongating vowels and stressing transitions more clearly, parentese helps a baby brain's auditory cortex recognize vowel-consonants groupings. And some use of it helps until a child's second birthday.

2. Labeling objects
One of the ways parents help babies and toddlers learn language is through what's called "object labeling" — telling them, "That's your stroller," "See the flower?," and "Look at the moon." While babies may look at an object of a parent's interest, they learn more from object labeling when the parent isn't intruding or directing the child's attention. Instead, the parent is following the child's lead: object labeling is the most effective when the parent describes an object that the baby is already focused on – gazing, pointing or vocalizing. But timing is everything: the word has to be heard just as an infant is looking or grabbing after it to make sure that the child connects the word to the right object.

3. Beware criss-cross labeling
The danger in overzealous object labeling is that you might inadvertently crisscross the child: that is, don't put words in his mouth that aren't really there.
Say a baby, holding a spoon, says "buh, buh." But a mother doesn't respond to the child's object of attention; instead, she responds to the the "buh" – sound the baby had made. So the mother replies with: "Bottle? You want your bottle?" Inadvertently, she just crisscrossed the baby: she taught him that a spoon is called "bottle." While proper object labeling can accelerate word learning, frequently crisscrossed labeling can slow it to a near halt.

4. Use Motionese
When adults talk to young children about small objects, they frequently twist the object, or shake it, or move it around — usually synchronized to the sing-song of parentese. This "motionese" is very helpful in teaching the name of the object. Moving the object turns the moment into a multi-sensory experience. This helps attract the infant's attention and ensures that the child attaches the right label to the right object.
Children have better recall for words learned via multi-sensory exposure. But the window to use motionese closes at fifteen months: by that age, children no longer benefit from the extra motion.

So interesting, right?


  1. This is very interesting! My kids have passed that 15-month threshold but definitely the amount of exposure they have to language has an effect. My SIL and her husband are the quietest people I've ever met, and she is worried that her daughter (3 today) doesn't talk. Well how could she, no one talks to her?

  2. Very interesting - thanks for sharing! I will be more aware of accidentally cross-labelling in the future.


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