Don’t expect your voice to change much after puberty … until you have a baby. Call it instinct, tradition or just plain silliness, but most parents around the world put on slower-paced, higher-pitched voices to speak to their little ones. And it doesn’t go unappreciated—research has shown that babies actually prefer to be spoken to like babies! Scientifically termed “infanted-directed speech” can give your baby a developmental boost as well: A 2005 study by Carnegie Mellon professor Erik Thiessen, PhD, suggests that babies can learn to speak sooner and pick up words more quickly when their parents address them using infanted-directed speech rather than normal adult speech.
Baby begins to build language know-how from day one, so remember to talk to him as a human being, not just about him like he’s an object. Follow these tips to get the conversation off to a good start:
- Show no shame. Why postpone the conversation (and lose valuable learning time) by waiting until baby is able to respond? If you get funny looks for talking to your 2-month-old as you stroll through the supermarket, big deal!
- Speak up. There’s no need to yell, but baby will pick up your words more easily if you speak straight to him (look him in the eye if he’s amenable) and keep your volume reasonably high.
- Enunciate. Baby may not be able to pronounce his Rs and Ls for a few years, but your speech should be clear and precise, so at least he’ll know how it’s supposed to sound.
- Slow down. If you’ve ever tried to pick up a foreign language, you know how frustrating it can be when a native speaker is going a mile a minute. Take your time and say it well, even if it means saying less.
- Raise your pitch. No falsetto or “chipmunk” necessary, just a slightly elevated, gentle tone. This is stereotypical “motherese” for a reason—babies love it!
- Use visuals. Talk about what you’re doing as you move through the day—washing dishes and shopping for essentials might seem boring to you, but baby will eat up your every word. Identify common objects and people over and over again. Repetition equals remembrance.
- Drop pronouns. Baby won’t understand you, me, I, she, he, her, him, us, them, it, this or that for some time, so call people and things by their proper names. Transition to pronouns as baby enters toddlerhood, and he’ll naturally sort out their meanings.
- Make it fun. Use lots of inflection to keep your voice interesting, even before baby can understand the words. Maintain a positive, upbeat tone so baby associates speaking with calm and happy feelings.
- Simplify. You can read to your baby from The Wall Street Journal, but he won’t get much out of it. Instead, use short, simple phrases to talk about things he can relate to. Discussing objects he can see will mean more to him than describing intangible concepts.
- Be demonstrative. Use exaggerated facial expressions and gestures to hold baby’s interest and convey meaning. When baby is very little, you’ll need to get closer to him so he can see you well; as he gets older and his vision improves, you’ll be able to back up some and add more body language into the mix.