It can be hard to resist lapsing into an exaggerated, singsong tone when you talk to a cute baby. And that's with good reason. Babies will pay more attention to baby talk than regular speech, regardless of which languages they're used to hearing, according to a study by UCLA's Language Acquisition Lab and 16 other labs around the globe.
In the study, which took place at 17 labs on four continents, researchers observed 333 bilingual babies and 384 monolingual babies, ranging in age from 6 to 9 months and 12 to 15 months. UCLA's lab was the only one to provide data on bilingual babies who grew up hearing both English and Spanish. Investigators observed babies who were 12 to 15 months old.
Each baby would sit on a parent's lap while recordings of an English-speaking mother, using either infant-directed speech or adult-directed speech, played from speakers on the left or the right. Computer tracking measured how long each baby looked in the direction of each sound.
"The longer they looked, the stronger their preference," the investigator said. "Babies tend to pay more attention to the exaggerated sounds of infant-directed speech." Infants' interest in English baby talk was very fine-tuned, the study noted. Bilingual parents indicated the percent of time English was spoken at home compared to Spanish. The more English the bilingual babies had been exposed to, the stronger their preference for infant-directed speech compared to adult-directed speech. However, even babies with no exposure to English preferred the English baby talk to the grown-up talk.
According to the study, 6- to 9-month-old babies who had mothers with higher levels of education preferred baby talk more than babies whose mothers had less education.
Advances in Methods and Practices in Psychological Science
Source: DOI: 10.31234/osf.io/sqh9d