UW study: Parentese most effective method for teaching toddlers language

Aug 5, 2020, 1:58 PM | Updated: Aug 6, 2020, 6:12 am

washington births, parantese language...

(AP Photo)

(AP Photo)

The manner in which infants and toddlers learn to speak is of ongoing interest for researchers and parents alike, and parentese may be the most effective teaching tool. Dr. Naja Ferjan Ramirez is a linguistics and cognitive science professor at the University of Washington, who’s written a study on how parents talk to their children.

So, what exactly is parentese?

“Parentese is a special speaking style that adults use when they talk to their infants and toddlers. It’s observed across many languages, and it’s much more than just a pleasant sounding speech. It sometimes gets confused with baby talk — baby talk is a combination of silly sounds and words that sometimes even uses incorrect grammar. So things like, ‘Oh, your shoes woosies on your cutesy feet’ — that would be baby talk,” she said.

“Parantese uses correct grammar and real words, but it does have this higher pitch, a slower tempo, exaggerated intonation and acoustically exaggerated vowels.”

Harvard Prof: Kids being out of school can have ‘devastating consequences’

According to Dr. Ramirez, this type of speech specifically allows babies to better understand the individual words and gradually gain an understanding of language.

“It has a slower tempo, so it helps a baby find where the boundaries between the words are because typically in fast speech words run into one another … and that might be one of the reasons why it helps them learn words. The higher pitch captures their attention, and then the exaggerated vowels help children figure out what the vowels of their language are,” she said.

While parentese in various forms is something that often comes naturally to parents or something they use inadvertently, what the study helps to show is the science behind why it works and how effective it can be in teaching language to kids.

“We have known for quite a while that the kids who hear more parentese have better language outcomes later on. What we didn’t know up until this point is whether parental use of parentese is something that’s malleable,” she said. “Or, in other words, if we tell parents that parentese is a good thing, can they enhance how much they use it and in what situations they use it?”

Parenting and working from home during coronavirus

“In this study, we show that this is possible and that those parents who enhance their parentese use the most have babies with the best language outcomes,” she added. “… Many parents had no idea that they use it themselves until we played back their recordings. … So the purpose was to really draw their attention to the benefits of parentese and to show them that they do actually use it, and then tell them to start using more of it.”

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News weekday mornings from 5 – 9 a.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

Dave Ross on KIRO Newsradio 97.3 FM
  • listen to dave rossTune in to KIRO Newsradio weekdays at 5am for Dave Ross on Seattle's Morning News.

Dave's Commentary

Dave Ross

Dr. Bleich found you could discourage kids from buying soda if you post signs near the soda case sh...

Dave Ross

Ross: Study shows aging effects of sugar

My family informs me that no one wants to hear any more studies about sugar, because they've already heard enough.

3 days ago

school lunches research...

Dave Ross

Ross: New research confirms what we all know about school lunches

From time to time, we'll hear about scientific studies that, after careful research, will rediscover something everybody knew 50 years ago.

5 days ago

FILE - Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, heads to a vot...

Dave Ross

Ross: Mitt Romney leaving politics unveils an intimidating truth

Mitt Romney that he will not run for reelection in 2024. Kind of a surprise since he’s only 76. Which, as Senators go, is barely middle age.

9 days ago

parking sodo...

Dave Ross

Ross: Parking duplicity or an honest mix-up in SoDo

We recently went to see the Immersive Van Gogh Experience in Sodo, which is right next to a parking lot that charges $15 for two hours.

10 days ago

seattle property crimes graffiti patrols...

Dave Ross

Ross: I’m tired of graffiti, we need nightly paint truck patrols

It's time for nightly paint truck patrols up and down the breakdown lanes on I-5. Trucks equipped with night vision cameras, and side-mounted paint nozzles.

11 days ago

LONDON - OCTOBER 14:  A man uses an iris recognition scanner during the Biometrics 2004 exhibition ...

Dave Ross

Ross: It’s probably too late to stop universal face recognition

I tend to forget names, and I also tend to run into people I’ve never met who somehow know my name, so it’s only right I should be able to return the favor.

12 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Swedish Cyberknife...

September is Prostate Cancer Awareness Month

September is a busy month on the sports calendar and also holds a very special designation: Prostate Cancer Awareness Month.

Ziply Fiber...

Dan Miller

The truth about Gigs, Gs and other internet marketing jargon

If you’re confused by internet technologies and marketing jargon, you’re not alone. Here's how you can make an informed decision.

Education families...

Education that meets the needs of students, families

Washington Virtual Academies (WAVA) is a program of Omak School District that is a full-time online public school for students in grades K-12.

Emergency preparedness...

Emergency planning for the worst-case scenario

What would you do if you woke up in the middle of the night and heard an intruder in your kitchen? West Coast Armory North can help.

Innovative Education...

The Power of an Innovative Education

Parents and students in Washington state have the power to reimagine the K-12 educational experience through Insight School of Washington.

Medicare fraud...

If you’re on Medicare, you can help stop fraud!

Fraud costs Medicare an estimated $60 billion each year and ultimately raises the cost of health care for everyone.

UW study: Parentese most effective method for teaching toddlers language