an infant gesturingWhen your baby babbles, do you answer? Research from the University of Iowa and Indiana University investigated how a mother’s response to her infant’s babbling affects the infant’s communication skills. When mothers listen to their infant’s chatter and respond to it, infants learn to use language more rapidly. The study suggests that the way in which parents respond to their babies can affect the progress of language acquisition.

The researchers observed interactions between mothers and their eight-month-old infants over the course of six months. The mothers and their children participated in 30-minute sessions twice per month for the duration of the study. The researchers focused on how the mothers responded to their children’s vocalizations like babbling and cooing. They were particularly interested in how the mothers responded to vocalizations directed to them. After the study, the mothers completed a survey about their children’s language skills.

Infants whose mothers responded to what they thought their children were saying developed their language skills more rapidly than children whose mothers did not attempt to understand their children or who directed their children’s attention elsewhere. Children whose mothers responded to their vocalizations demonstrated improvements in consonant-vowel vocalizations and began babbling in ways that resembled speech. According to the survey, infants whose mothers were more attentive to babbling were producing more words and gestures at 15 months of age.

The study challenges the idea that language is innate and that language development is not affected by a child’s environment. The study demonstrates that the way in which mothers respond to children can accelerate language acquisition. Parents can help their young children learn to communicate by listening to them and responding in meaningful ways.

This research is published in the journal Infancy.

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