Global Language Development

** Next week, I will be headed to Ghana, Africa to see some the similarities of language development and language learning across cultures first hand. In coordination with Columbia University, a group of graduate students and licensed speech-language pathologists will be working in hospitals, schools, and clinics to share our knowledge and practice in three different cities/villages in Ghana. Stay tuned for updates and recaps from the trip in the coming weeks **

Language is the one thing that diversifies humans among other species. This complex knowledge and use of a set of sounds, rules, and social exchange is probably one of the most difficult things we have to learn.

Although each language can be very different, researchers have found that our children are learning language in the same ways. Many children around the world are hearing motherese as their first exposures to spoken words.

Globally, infants are babbling around the same time (between 5 and 7 months). Our babies combine consonants and vowels in a repetitive manner (e.g. babababa) as they begin to learn to use their sounds for communication.

Researchers have identified different consonant+vowel combinations, including “mamama,” “dadada,” and “gagaga,” that babies used across different languages. They found that babies were all using the same form of babbling in the U.S., Sweden, Portugal, Korea, Japan, France, Holland, North Africa and Ecuador.

Studies show that even infants who learn language visually, such as American Sign Language (ASL), use “manual babbling,” repetitive movements with use of their hands that take on similar characteristics to signed words.

Remarkably, language development isn’t the only area that babies are all similar. If you haven’t seen it already, check out Babies, a documentary that looks at the development of four infants all around the world from birth to 1 year. Its incredible how even across cultures, parents and kiddos are acting parallel around the globe.

How “Baby Talk” helps your Baby to Talk

A study out of Carnegie Mellon University showed that "motherese" helps children learn language faster.

“Motherese,” aka “parentese,” aka “infant directed speech” is a universal language. You are already familiar with this language, as you have that natural ability to use it in those first few months of life to talk with your baby.

Studies have shown that no matter what language is being used, motherese carries the same characteristics. It has a certain musicality to it. It is slower, the vowels are longer, the consonants shorter, the words are simpler, and the pitch is higher. There are fewer syllables per phrase, making it easier and more interesting for our little ones to listen and learn.

Here’s what is sounds like:

Other studies showed babies actually prefer motherese and that it even keeps our child’s attention for longer.

As babies’ awareness of language and speech sounds increases, it gives them a greater foundation for developing these skills. They listen and attend to our use of this musical way of speaking, loaded with vowels and sing-songy intonation... and the first sounds they make often sound like motherese. Cooing is the first milestone reached in speech and language production, and its no wonder, since our babies have been listening to all of these vowel productions from day one.

Linguists have found that regardless of the language you speak, motherese is being used around the world. Whether you are speaking English, Mandarin, Japanese, German, or Spanish... we are all teaching our babies to talk in the same way.

It is so natural to us, that I even witnessed my 2 year old niece use this same musical voice when talking to her baby brother.

As your child begins to coo and babble and especially as they begin to say words, as they approach the 12 month mark, using motherese is no longer necessary. You want to use a more “adult-like” way of speaking so they can transition into learning how to use new sounds, with more complex use of consonants.

The Speechies was featured on Disney Baby

We've done it again this week... The Speechies has partnered up with Disney Baby to bring you more expert advice on helping your child thrive.

If you liked 15 Simple Words to Teach Baby, then check out 10 Great Toys for Language Development and word learning.
As a parent, you have thousands of options in choosing toys for your little one. But all you really need are a few low-maintenance, no batteries required toys to foster language, play, and early critical thinking. In 10 Great Toys for Language Development, you'll learn the power of bubbles, blocks, tea parties, and shape sorters. Check out this post to learn which words and early concepts can be taught using the toys you already have.


Leave a comment on the post and let us know what you think! We'd love to hear from you.

The Speechies was featured on Disney Baby

Babies learn their world through all of their senses, even when it comes to words - hearing, seeing, touching. By teaching a simple, straight-forward vocabulary, you can promote more positive communication experiences with your little one.

Babies are fascinated with faces, they'll be watching your eyes and mouth intently when you speak. These 15 words are "visual" sounds - sounds you can see (like "m," "p," and "b").

Repetition is the key to learning. Babies as young as 4 months old benefit from repetitive sounds and words. Check out these 15 words to say 3-5 times within the same minute for optimal word learning.

15 Simple Words to Teach Baby