Motherese

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When it comes to language development, how we speak to our children can be as important or even more important than what we speak to them about. Here we’ll see some strategies that you can use to maximize the efficacy of your communication with your baby. You probably already use some of these techniques instinctively with your little one, and they will also be useful when speaking to him or her in a foreign language, whether it be English, Spanish, or any other target language.

Parentese or Motherese

Motherese, also known as Parentese or Infant Directed Speech, is the almost universal way of spealing to babies which is characterized by the exaggeration and extension of vowel sounds, slow and clear pronunciation, high-pitched tone, simple vocabulary and syntax, and melodious rhythm. Babies are attracted to this way of speaking, and it helps them to learn the sounds of their native language.

See more about motherese in reasearcher Patricia Kuhl’s fascinating TEDx talk The Linguistic Genius of Babies. (English language with subtitles available in many languages.)

Other Techniques

Besides speaking in motherese, there are other techniques to make our communication with baby more powerful. These same techniques also stimulate language development in any language.

  • Narrate and describe what you and your baby are doing, seeing, hearing.
  • Repeat, expand, extend what your baby says.
  • Ask questions.
  • Model the language you want your child to use.
  • Require that your little one (when able) use the target language in certain contexts. You could start, for example, with the basics of courtesy: please y thank-you, expanding according to age. For my two-year-old, I require she say something like this: Water, please, Mummy. My four-year-old, Mummy, may I have a drink of water, please?

Read more about these techniques at Playing with Words 365, the blog of US speech therapist Katie Yeh. And as always, if you have questions, leave a comment here or send us a message via the Contact Form.

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